From the very beginning, I was sick more than the usual teacher. I took all the precautions I could, but when you work with kids, there are germs. I learned when to go on to school and tough it out and when it was quicker to stay home and let my body heal. My illnesses never got in the way of my teaching. I loved my job. I loved creating new ways to teach old ideas. It was exhilarating to see the light go on in the eye of the child who finally "got it". Or to watch the child who entered your classroom as an unruly, unable to read first grader, leave your room a well-mannered, and well-read third grader. (I taught multi-age classes) The feeling of the classroom as it settles into the day's work. The emotion as you read aloud a story and it comes to the climax. I miss these things.
Coming to the realization that my 150% was no longer even a typical person's 100% was a tough process. When we moved to NC, I began teaching part-time. My illnesses were no longer strep throats, sinus infections or the flu. I had been diagnosed with Crohn's Disease and I was spending several weeks a year in the hospital. So we decided that maybe part-time, would be better for my body. But my body began to hurt in other ways and I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondilytis, a debilitating arthritis. This was too much for me. I needed so much rest to be able to work just 4 hours a day and be mom to 2 small kids.
I remember some of the young teachers who didn't have kids yet, making comments about how nice it must be to leave at lunch. I wanted to tell them I would trade bodies with them in a heartbeat. They had no idea. They had no idea, that I went straight home and went to bed. Got up in time to pick up my kids from the bus stop, did the "mom" thing, made dinner, and put them to bed. I then climbed back into bed so I could get up and teach 4 hours the next day. I doubt this is what those young teachers had in mind when they made those comments. Of course, they were seeing what I couldn't yet. I was slipping. I was still giving everything I had, but it was no longer cutting it.
To go from being a teacher that mentored others, had college students in your classroom, had visiting teachers,and excellent reviews to one that could no longer perform, was devastating. It was a crushing blow to my ego. It has taken several years to get to the place where I am now. To see that I am not a failure, my body simply could not keep up. I had to make a choice. Go on being a mediocre teacher, and not being really present with my own kids, or do what was best for the students and my own family. So I quit. I retired.
For the first time I can write these words and not cry. I am no longer ashamed that I cannot work. I worked hard for many years past when most would have quit. But my body is my body. It can't help itself. So my life has changed. I am no longer an elementary teacher. I am now a stay-at-home mom. And you know, I love it. I am glad I have been here for my kids. Even now that they are in high school, I get glimpses of how my being at home helps them. I can carpool. I can have kids over to my house. I can enjoy them and my own kids more.
I have had to let go of my ego defining career. But in so doing, I have found me. I am no longer defined by what I do. I am defined by who I am.
What are you letting define you today? Is it something that could be gone in an instant? Who are you? As you go about your work today, I hope these thoughts will challenge you.