I Used to be a High School English Teacher

Last week I got a letter from HR asking me to let them know ASAP what my post-maternity-leave plans were. I’d taken unpaid leave for the rest of the school year (after my paid leave ran out), but planned to return to coaching for the spring track season. In my heart, I’d already decided what I wanted to do, and I thought the spring track season would be a good test run. I’d coach, write as much as possible during Thea’s naps, and take an extended time away from teaching.

I’m working on a longer essay about what (many) factors have changed how I feel about teaching. The most (er–only) positive factor is Thea. I’m trying to work through the ways in which issues specific to my district (a wealthy suburban district where there’s a lot of stress on the kids and a lot of parental involvement that often crosses the line into threatening), and which issues are really problems with the nature of teaching nationwide. One of the things I’ve been thinking about is the archetype of the savior-teacher on the one hand and the bitter, burned-out, union-supported lazy teacher on the other hand.

This teacher-as-selfless-martyr narrative is everywhere–Dead Poets’ SocietyDangerous MindsFreedom Writers… all movies that made me cry and also kind of made me feel sick at the same time. When I was a brand new teacher, unsure of how exactly to make a rubric, how to explain what was wrong with a thesis statement on Of Mice and Men that read “Lennie likes to touch soft things, but that’s not his fault. He just wants to relax,” how to control unruly fifteen-year-old boys, the one thing I did feel confident I could do was passionately care about my students. I remember seeing some meme on Facebook that a teacher is a mom, a therapist, a coach, a friend… and thinking yeah! That’s right! 

But, it really shouldn’t be. If you haven’t seen Dead Poets Society since you were a kid you might not remember that Mr. Keating (the Robin Williams character) is living in his high school dorm’s faculty apartment, gazing longingly at a photograph of the love of his life who got away. He explains that he loves her (after telling the boys they must seize the day) but couldn’t leave Dalton. My first few years of teaching, I doubtlessly did rely on personal relationships with students, on my demonstrable investment in their education and emotional well-being, to make up for what I lacked in efficiency and experience. In some ways, those were the best years of teaching. I cried in the first PPT I attended, and, unaware, that the teacher is typically supposed to speak minimally (for fear of lawsuits) rattled on about the potential I saw in the student. I formed the strongest and most lasting relationships with my students. I’m still in touch with a lot of those kids. The other day I found a tee-shirt the first AP class I ever taught made to wear to the exam. It’s full of jokes about Lord Byron and characters from The Grapes of Wrath. We kept a class blog that I monitored diligently at night. Kids told me their parents told them they were blogging too much. Returning to their laptops too often to defend an argument about Roger Chillingworth’s evil nature or Gertrude Stein’s poetry.

It’s had to articulate what about this was bad. And not all of it was. But, like Mr. Keating, I was alone and far too invested in the world of my school. I had trouble sleeping when I worried about a student going through a difficult time. I was often at school until seven, even eight o’clock counseling a handful of kids. I started to remind myself of Jean Brodie in the worst way. With a little “set” of students who felt like my team much more than my colleagues or administrators did. I was lonely, afraid I’d never meet anyone. Grateful to love my job. I was also mitigating that loneliness and fear with misplaced feelings of duty. I am not trained to be a psychologist. I am not a mother, nor should I behave as a friend to my students.

I’ve thought often of that Facebook meme over the years and tried to figure out what it is about it that bothers me so much. It’s not that I don’t see how a teacher could see himself that way. And it’s not that I don’t think it could ever be helpful to intervene in an unconventional, non-academic way. But to frame the respect teachers deserve in terms of the sacrifices they make in their personal lives rather than in the expertise they have in their subjects and in education is problematic. It also sets up a system where the kind of people who are prone to obsessing over what others think of them and a desire to please work tirelessly to be everything to their schools, making up for what teachers don’t earn in salary and in respect from the community with self-important notions of martyrdom.

In the years since that first AP class, my life has changed and my teaching style has changed. I’d like to believe that I’m capable of enough honest reflection to say truly that I remained caring and compassionate. But. I met my husband. I started to make friends in the area. I spent more time with my family. I got married. I grew frustrated with semi-annual blowouts with parents over three-hundredths of a percentage point. I sat through insulting professional development session after insulting professional development session. I tried to make the best of new initiatives. And then these initiatives were abandoned for other initiatives. Which were abandoned for other initiatives. And with them, hours of work.

When I first started teaching, I’d go to school even when I was really sick because I had this sort of self-absorbed notion that no sub could do my class justice. I had each period packed as full as possible of close reading and writing conferences and to miss even one day seemed more work than it was worth. Everything–every lesson, every chapter of every book I assigned–mattered so much to me. The stakes felt so high.

I had forgotten I felt that way until I had Thea. And then, once again the stakes feel so high. She’s sitting here next to me in her swing listening to some classical music, yawning, babbling, fighting a nap, occasionally smiling or furrowing her brow. After every few sentences I look over hoping to see she’s fallen asleep (she’s not much of a napper, but she’s been awake for more than three hours at this point), and have a rapid-fire internal debate about if letting her swing herself to sleep is the right thing.

Although my husband and I had already discussed and decided what I’d do before I received the letter from HR, my response to the letter surprised me. I nearly ripped it out of his hands. I fired off my resignation with the same enthusiasm I had once signed my first teaching contract. It’s both sad and a little jarring to see something that once so defined me become something I’m so eager to leave behind. Although there were some ways in which my changing attitude about teaching was obvious to me–measurable changes like the number of hours I spent at school made that clear–Thea’s birth painted my fierce devotion to her in sharp contrast to the way I’d come to feel about work.

For the next while, I’m going to continue coaching–something I actually missed enough on maternity leave that I returned to it before I’d committed to. And writing. I have a lot of projects underway but far from finished and I want to give them a chance to go somewhere.

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.

Here We Go

Today is my last day teaching this school year. I’m not sure when baby will arrive; it’s been strange to know that my life is about to change immeasurably but that the change could come at any time in the next month or so. I spend a lot of time “researching” early signs of labor and wondering if what I’m feeling is a contraction or a stomach ache or just an ache from loosening joints and extra weight around my middle.

When I first started teaching, I was scared. I was afraid the kids wouldn’t respect me. I remember using those windows of prep time for catching my breath, feeling relief at the opportunity not to be “on,” more than for grading or for prepping. I was newly single, having just ended a four year relationship that I’d thought at one point would lead to marriage. I was lonely, but I loved my job for the first time in my life. I was never bored. At the end of each week, I felt as deeply satisfied as I did exhausted.

In the years since then, I’ve grown more confident in the classroom, more certain that I”m in control, and less concerned that students might not like or respect me (though it is still absolutely awful to encounter a hostile student). The prep periods have become filled with student meetings, grading as fast as I can, and trying to do everything I can to maintain a work-life balance. Along the way, I’ve made some mistakes–bad assignments, teaching books in a weird order, not giving very clear feedback, getting too invested in one struggling student, or taking on more than I could reasonably handle (coaching three seasons, planning a wedding, teaching four different classes, three of which were new…). I’m at a different school.

Though I’m still never bored, I’m not bone-achingly tired by the end of the day, or even the end of the week anymore. I work in the same building as my husband, which not only is convenient, but also totally changes the sense of aloneness I felt in those early teaching years. I have an ally in the building (something I think most teachers feel they never have–it often feels like a lone man/woman trying to do his or her best by students, teachers, administrators, peers, and often without feeling that any of these many people for whom we are working so hard are actively supporting us, or even hoping that we’ll succeed).

I have spent more years teaching than I did in college and graduate school combined. I dedicated more physical and emotional energy to doing this right than I ever have to anything before–even running or my own writing. But, on Monday when our 5:00am alarm goes off, my husband will head to work and I won’t. I’ve thought a lot about what I imagine the parallels between teaching and parenting could be. The stakes are high (though please, never let me lose perspective and fly into the school on my broomstick when my little girl gets a B+), the physical and emotional investment intense, particularly in the first months and years. In trying to write out these parallels, though, I’m also struck by how little I can possibly know of what the next stage in this journey will be. Here we go.

The Problem With “IB for All”

This morning I read an article about a school that’s implementing an “IB for all” program despite having more than a third of its students eligible for free and reduced lunch. This was, of course, being lauded as a revolutionary and open-minded move.

As a high school teacher in an affluent district, this is really alarming–a large part of what makes IB inaccessible to some students is much bigger than income level. The courses are challenging and time consuming, yes, but specifically, they are abstract and complex (mores than most AP classes). I have plenty of students with a non-working, college-educated parent at home to help, availability of tutors, every comfort of upper-class suburban life (including the pressure to enroll in courses that are too challenging) that often comes with it. Just as it would seem absurd to read about a school that’s requiring everyone to run a marathon, it is misguided and disingenuous at best, cruel and demonstrates a huge misunderstanding of what an IB class is and should be. Either this classes will not–cannot–actually be IB level, or students will be forced to either transfer out of this school or struggle through classes in which they are struggling, not in the hard-work-is-good-for-you way, but in a really demoralizing way.

I’ll use myself as an anecdotal example. In 12th grade, I signed up for AP Physics. Partly because I’d liked regular physics the year before and partly because “obviously” I’d need to take an AP science class. I’d always been a good student, I went on to be a relatively successful, academic-minded person, and I had supportive parents. While they didn’t help me with my physics homework themselves, my mom actually hired a tutor for me, and once a week, I’d drive from my nice, suburban high school over to the local university and get extra help from a college physics professor. On Friday mornings, I’d get to school an hour early and go over my many, many questions with my wonderfully patient physics teacher. I did all my work. I never skipped class. I had a great teacher, focused classmates, state-of-the-art lab equipment, a history of academic success, additional resources, and I was committed to doing the best I could in the class. You know what happened at the end of the year? I got a TWO on the AP Physics exam. At first, I was shocked–I didn’t even know they gave scores like that–and then I was relieved. Considering how little I’d understood and how frustrating the entire year had been, I was surprised I didn’t get a one!

My husband, at a high school across Long Island Sound, was taking AP Physics before going on to major in Physics and get a PhD in astrophysics. I can’t imagine how frustrated he would have been, had he known me then, to see me struggling with the most basic of equations. The IB, or AP, or honors distinction in a class should mean something. It should mean a rigorous class that’s not accessible to everyone. Not because of socioeconomics, of course, but because of something that’s become increasingly taboo to even acknowledge in public education: talent.

I’ve often used a running example to try to convey the absurdity of assuming that all students should or can achieve “greatness” in all subjects. Would we expect that anyone regardless of size, health, lifestyle, and injury history could run a 6:00 mile? A 5:00 mile? Now, though, I realize that my own analogy is flawed. That’s not the direction we’re headed–toward true excellence or mastery for all. Instead, we assume that anyone can “complete” a cross country season, even if that means walking a good portion of every single novice race (where I coach a novice race is about a mile and a half compared with the typical 5k distance for varsity runners). Being on a sports team, even one that doesn’t have cuts should mean something. That’s the whole point. Taking an IB (or AP) class, even in a school with open enrollment, should, too.

Year Seven

Yesterday I wrapped up the first week of my seventh year teaching. In seven years, I’ve taught at two schools, prepped and planned materials for thirteen different courses, taught about 700 different students, and written “what do you mean?” or “needs more evidence” on a mind-numbing-exhausting-overwhelming number of papers. 

This year feels a little different because I know I won’t be there after Thanksgiving. I have all freshmen (my freshman English teacher was the most influential I’ve ever had, and so while a lot of my colleagues like older students, I have a special place in my heart for nervous, insecure, wide-eyed 9th graders). I’m starting the year out with The Night Circus, a novel I’ve never taught before. I’ve already planned through November and graded first drafts on 100 papers. I am excited to do the very best I can for the months I’m with my classes, and I’m also excited to hand everything over to my long-term sub in 12 weeks. 

We have 80 girls on the cross country roster this year. By the time our season wraps up, I’ll be waddling more than running. The leaves will have changed and then fallen, and hopefully most of those 80 girls will feel a little bit stronger, faster, fitter, prouder of what they can make their bodies do. 

Year 32

Friday was my 32nd birthday, and in the weeks leading up to it, I had been thinking a lot about everything that happened since my last birthday.

 

We got engaged.

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I ran the Twin Cities Marathon.

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I coached our girls cross country team to the highest state finish in more than 20 years.

We got married.

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We went to Hawaii

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We bought & started building a house

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I got pregnant.

Hannah won nationals and broke the national sophomore record.

We took our wandering road trip.

I finished the first draft of the novel I’ve been working on since 2011. 

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I know it is unrealistic to think life will slow down, and I don’t want it to, but I would also feel okay about having fewer major life changes between now and turning 33. Yesterday was a quiet birthday. Nick and I went for a run at the beach before work, and out to a delicious dinner after work. Kids come back to school on Monday, cross country season starts, and by early December, we’ll no longer be a family of two. 

This weekend was such a perfect way to end the summer that even though I’m excited about some new things I want to try in my classroom and the cross country season, it feels a little like I’m being ripped out of the house this morning. 

 

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.

Halves of the Heart

The more people it’s become either important emotionally or professionally necessary to tell about the pregnancy, the better I feel. Being secretive (rather than just being private, if that distinction makes sense) has always been something that makes me feel awful. Nervous, cranky, not myself.

Next week, the department will get our schedules for next year, and my boss warned me that people are going to either figure out or ask why I only have one prep (this year I have four). I’m also a little bit (or a lot) vain, and I don’t want people to think the reason I’m not teaching an AP class is because I’m being demoted. So, I’m going to be honest about next year and open up to both my colleagues and my students. Nick reminded me that I don’t owe my students any sort of explanation, and suggested that I might be imagining that they even care what I’m teaching next year (for the most part, I think he’s right, but I also hate the idea of anyone thinking I’m not doing a good enough job to handle the challenge of four preps, including my students. I don’t want them to avoid challenges and be lazy, so I don’t want them to think I am, either). This means I’ll also tell the girls on the team. Right now, my plan is to tell the boys’ team coaches (who don’t know yet), and explain that I am still going to be the head coach in cross country, and then tell the girls at the team meeting after our race on Tuesday. It’s a little earlier than the typical beginning of second trimester time, but I’ll be nearly 10 weeks by then, and I think that opening up about why I haven’t been running intervals with the varsity girls will also make me feel better. Most days I feel good on runs, and have been keeping up with the varsity squad on easy runs and the next group on interval days, but I also know that there may soon be a day where I don’t feel up to running at all, let alone with the faster girls, and it will be easier for me to respond appropriately if I know that everything is already out in the open.

Yesterday I felt pretty queasy all day, and instead of going out to dinner as we’d planned, Nick and I spent the evening at home. I started and finished a collection of personal essays by my college creative writing professor. I took at least three writing workshops with Megan Stielstra when I was at the University of Chicago, and in the ten (!) years since graduation, I’ve read everything of hers I could. Recently, her essay “Channel B” was published in the Best American Essays anthology.

I first read Channel B years ago–when I thought I might like to have a baby someday, and when I had friends who had babies, but before I was anywhere in a how-will-motherhood-change-my-life state of mind. Last night, as I was blowing through Once I Was Cool, I was particularly drawn to two essays about writing and motherhood. I’ve been thinking a lot about how much I love in my life. I love teaching. I love coaching. I love writing. I love training. I love Nick. I love my parents. I love my friends. I am excited to love being a mother. How can I have room for all these things I love so completely? I already often feel that I can’t do everything I love to my standards.

When I was in 10th grade, I had a journal where I would write down my goals. Here is one list from the May I was 15:

  • Break 12 in the 2 mile
  • Kiss Mark Johnson
  • Get a 5 on the AP US History Exam
  • Get into the University of Chicago
  • Get a PhD from Stanford or Berkeley

Although I never did kiss Mark Johnson or apply to PhD programs, I am still a person who loves to make lists, to cross things off those lists, and to add new, loftier plans. It is hard to accept that the list (which is now, thankfully for me and those who share a life with me, mostly mental) is shifting, not only in its focus, but in its nature. I don’t know what exactly will be hard about being a mom. I don’t know what will feel impossible, and unlike knowing how to make flashcards, take practice tests, proofread my essay 803 times, or run 400s with short rest, I don’t know what steps I’ll need to take to be a patient, strong, loving, supportive, mom. Some people who are well-meaning, but obviously more sane than I, have suggested that my priorities will change once I have children. They’ll say this as though this is supposed to be reassuing: what consumes you now won’t consume you in six months.

WHAT?! I’m a loyal girl. I’ve been loyal to running, to my love of literature, to my dreams of writing, for more than half my life. Consistently consumed by the same passions for longer than I’ve known how to drive. There has not been a season since 1996 when I was not trying to PR in some distance. There has not been a day since I read Harriet The Spy in 1989 when I was not writing down the strange things around me and spinning them into stories.

In Megan’s interview with The Rumpus, “Where I Write,” she talks about the two halves of her heart:

I am writing from an artist residency, all expenses paid, far away from the city in a beautiful old house. I have my own room. My own desk. Zero responsibilities save for writing and reading. It’s so still. The sun is shining through my window. I can hear crickets. I can hear my own thoughts; my own heartbeat. I’ve accomplished more in two weeks than I have in six months, and the sheer force of my gratitude could power a small city.

 But.

 I keep glancing up, expecting to see my kid drawing pictures at my feet. A hundred different times, I’ve been sure I heard him laughing in the next room. Last night, I counted mileage: If I leave now, I could be in Chicago by bedtime. I could read him a story, wait til he falls asleep, and be back at the residency by midnight.

Once again, the two halves of my heart.

I am excited and awed and humbled, of course, but also sometimes terrified about the two, or five, halves of my heart.

Who to Tell When

Yesterday, I decided to tell two of my co-coaches about the pregnancy. I’m still conflicted about this whole “protocol” of waiting until 12 weeks, not because I don’t understand it, but because the notion of being judged or made to feel shame or guilt because of something upsetting that might happen in those first 12 weeks seems to be much more of a problem than anyone casually mentioning what our tradition here in the U.S. is would say.

I’m terrible at keeping secrets, I’m a horrible liar, and while I don’t like a lot of public attention, openness is as important to my daily life as coffee and running (speaking of which I’m liking coffee okay again! Which is wonderful!) So, after a tearful, stressed conversation with my mom in which I asked (again): what will I do when I have appointments I have to schedule during work? What if girls on the team figure it out? What if I physically can’t run at some point? While I’m not ready to tell the girls on the team yet, I did decide to tell two of the coaches I work with, and I’m relieved. No one made too big of a hullaballoo about it since we were talking quietly on the side of the track after practice, but we all shared some joy and congratulations, and most importantly, I could honestly explain why I won’t be at practice on Friday.

At some point, I’ll need to tell my boss. I like my boss, and I like my job, and because it is so rigid in its schedule (school starts on time with or without me, runs on certain dates with or without me), and if I go on maternity leave in early December, that means I’ll be missing a good portion of the school year. This year I teach an AP class, and two different semester-long electives. I’d like to be able to have an honest conversation about who would take over my AP class when I leave (if it even still makes sense for me to teach it next year, but hopefully that wouldn’t mean losing it forever), and scheduling the electives so that someone else who really loves teaching Reading and Writing Fiction can have the class second semester while I’m at home bonding with and loving our baby.

We have our first ultrasound on Friday (it was not part of the very first prenatal visit, which went well on Monday), and I am going for blood work in just a few minutes, so I think I will tell my boss next week, once I have just a bit more information.

Introduction: why the blog, and why not publish any of this yet

In the months before I got my positive pregnancy test, I spent a lot of time scouring the internet for information about how those first few days might feel. I knew that few (and in fact, I found none) women would write about those first few days publicly. We’ve had our two-line stick for three days and have only told our parents, and we don’t plan to do so anytime soon. I’ve never been pregnant before, so I’m not sure what it’s supposed to feel like.

Is this nausea or cramping? Should I feel sicker? Less sick? Am I eating too much? Is it just me or do I already feel fatter? Is it okay to keep running? It has to be. I have to. I miss wine. I read coffee is okay. But what if it isn’t?

My thought was that if I chronicled the way I’m feeling–as a runner, but also as a writer, a teacher, a human–that there might be a time when I felt comfortable sharing these early thoughts and that these might be helpful to another runner, writer, teacher, human woman out there.