It’s time I face facts, Dear Reader: summer is rapidly coming to an end. Thanks to an executive order by the Maryland governor pushing all public school start dates to after Labor Day, it’s been an extra long summer break, but the end is finally nigh.
Being a teacher has a lot of perks and drawbacks. Having a nice long summer break is in most ways a truly excellent perk, especially since I’ve had kids. However, having to restart each year and go back to school can be emotionally and mentally taxing. I worked with a wonderful teacher in Kentucky who, twelve years in, confided that every year she stayed up all night throwing up the night before school started. And she’s one of those Pinterest teachers who spends her free time over the summer coming up with great ideas for her classroom, then actually goes into her classroom to put them into effect before school starts. I’m lucky if I’ve gotten my name above the door by Halloween. My last weeks of summer break are inevitably spent in a war inside my head between the voice saying I really should be doing something to prepare and the one jamming its head in the sand and crying, “But what? I don’t know what to do!”
This year, though, back to school season isn’t just about me. For the first time, it also means that at least one of my kids will be starting school. At four years old, The Dude is preparing to begin daily half-day attendance at a small Montessori school down the road. He’s been doing a weekly “pre-k prep” class at MyGym, but this is his first real school experience. I feel like I should be nervous about this, but I’m fairly certain that he’s going to do great and that the Montessori model is going to work really well for him. Mostly, I’m excited for him to start this new phase of life, proud of all he’s already learned and what a good kid I think he’s turning out to be, and a bit relieved that my going back to work will be marked by a positive change for him and not just my sudden absence from his daily routine. Plus, his mom needs a break, and his sister could use a few hours a day of undivided parental attention.
On top of, or perhaps more accurately simmering beneath, all of this, is something else, something even more relevant to this blog. This year is my second at my current district, school, and grade level. My first year was rough. First years always are, but coming from a position where I was so comfortable, I didn’t handle the change as well as I would have liked. This was most especially the case in the way I let work stress affect me outside of work. Tense, tired, and frustrated, I felt myself slipping as a dad. I would spend all day at work lamenting that I wasn’t home with my kids, then go home to find that a day full of thirteen year-olds had exhausted my patience for my son’s typical three year-old behavior. On my phone, I have a list of topics for blog posts. This list includes gems such as, “Patience and play (I’m tired)” and “When did I become a person who yells?” A big part of the reason I started blogging at all was to force myself to think more about how I was parenting, to become more reflective and less reactive.
It’s only August, and still two weeks before school starts, but I have already started feeling the stress again, started feeling like there aren’t enough hours in the day for me to spend the time I want with the kids, do the things I need but don’t necessarily want to do, devote time to the personal projects that most interest me but still take hard work, and find time for recreation and relaxation (I am still on vacation, after all).
I worry that the beginning of a new school year will again rob me of the ability to enjoy being a parent the way I want to. I worry that the demands of teaching and parenting will leave me without time to devote to writing and playing music. This summer I began working on a novel–my first, at thirty five years old, despite my lifelong ambition to be a writer–and joined a new band with an old friend, a band that stands to be a tremendous opportunity (although not likely financial opportunity). That one or both of these things may get pushed aside seems a very real possibility, if not a likelihood. And, of course, I still want to be able to spend real, quality time with my family, not just my wife and kids, but also the kids’ uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandparents who are now close enough to visit with regularly.
So, what’s an Ol’ Dad to do, Dear Reader? My brother, who is not by any means a Buddhist, once told me of a supposedly Buddhist saying that went something like, “Meditate for an hour every day, unless you don’t have time; then, meditate for two hours.” I’m not going to start meditating, but I am going to add to my already demanding schedule. In the past month, I’ve started walking my dog every morning and working out regularly with weights my wife got me for my birthday. When school starts back, I plan to continue both of these habits. In addition, I plan to spend at least a half hour writing every evening.
While I certainly hope to have a better and less frustrating school year, I also know that it’s up to me to have a life outside of work, and to make it one that is full and satisfying even–and especially–when work isn’t. That’s not just something I need to do for myself, either. I owe it to my kids to create space in my life to be the parent they deserve. Ultimately, Spending time making myself happy is what makes that possible, even if it means meditating for two hours when I don’t have time to meditate for one.