I walk toward the doors of my son's classroom after a long day in my own, my shoulders tight and my soul yearning for an afternoon coffee. This is the brightest spot of any given day--that moment after walking through the doors of my son's classroom when I spot him, he spots me, and he comes running, arms wide open and joy all over his face. My tired and tense is replaced with a sudden burst of pure joy that floods my body as his 4 year-old arms wrap around my neck. We exchange hugs and kisses and I take in every detail he wants to tell me about his day as we gather his things and walk together toward the car.
The end of the workday, for most people, is a welcome relief but, for me, the ride home from school is my least favorite part of the day--not because I'm unhappy to head home and be with my family, but because this is the time of day when I'm least mentally and physically settled. I feel a little like a soda bottle that's been shaken up and sat down, struggling to transition from swirling to settling. There just seems to be so much noise--both literally and figuratively. The noise of the radio, the sounds of traffic that surround me, my son's stories now stretching into twenty-minute monologues that I'm trying my best to actively listen to.
But the loudest, most distracting noise is that going through my head: the attempt to try and process all that I've taken in that day at school while simultaneously trying to let it go, to try and remember what didn't get done so those items can carry over onto tomorrow's to-do list, and the flood of to-do's that are yet to come when I step into the door of my own home. The reality is that home is not where I rest after an already full and tiring day--it's where the second half of my day begins: weekday evenings of a relaxing dinner and 8 o'clock sitcom were at some point replaced as just prep for the next day. To muster up the energy, I pull into Starbucks before tackling the grocery store.
I try to avoid early evening trips to the store by doing my shopping over the weekend--a nearly $200 bill for the week ahead seems like it should be enough, yet it's Thursday and somehow we've blown through most of it and there's nothing for dinner. Plus, it's my son's turn to bring snack for his class and my students have that project that I need marshmallows for. The caffeine boost helps me get through the aisles more quickly. The bill at the register is shocking as always and I do a quick mental scramble to make sure there's enough in the account on this day before payday. The cashier asks if I'd like to donate to help our local schools get the supplies they need. I think "girrrl, please" but politely tell her no thanks, not today, I've already donated toward the cause. As I push the cart through the parking lot, I laugh and joke with my boy and tell both him and myself "we're almost home".
I approach the door to my own home with as many grocery bags as I can carry in my left hand and a teacher cart wheeling behind me in my right, pleading with my four year-old to stop chasing lizards and pick up the grocery bag he dropped so we can get into the house. My shoulders feel tighter now as I balance bags on my leg and fumble with the key. When I walk in it feels like a mixture of relief and dread. I'm happy to be home, yet there's mess as far as the eye can see. Like my attempt at proactive weekend grocery shopping, my weekend cleaning now seems like a futile effort. I can't say it's all my son or husband's doing, I left out my own dinner plate from last night and the contents of my make up bag are strewn across the bathroom sink, not to mention our dog has knocked his food all over the floor. It's nobody's fault really, we're all busy and doing the best we can but somehow it just gets out of control so quickly.
My husband walks in the door and there's a second burst of parent/child joy. "Heyyy, boy!" my husband calls out as my son runs full speed into his arms. He probably feels dirty and tired after his own long day but looks like construction-clad perfection to me in his Carhartt jeans and work boots. He hugs and kisses me and we trade trite how was your day's, and fines. Both of us know the other is genuinely interested but that neither of us has the time or mental energy at the moment to hear genuine answers. Perhaps in a quiet restaurant with a bottle of wine, but not right now. We'll get there later.
As my son and husband commence some sort of weird wrestling/growling session I don't quite understand, I pop in my headphones to escape yet more noise. I pour my one glass of wine for the night and turn on my guilty pleasure podcast as I run through my mental to-do list of what needs to get done in the next two hours. As I pour the wine, I tell myself I should be popping in my headphones to go for a run instead before the sun goes down, but my tired body rejects that idea. Plus, that wouldn't leave enough time for everything else. I spend the next hour and a half in a whirlwind of packing lunches, picking up messes, switching over a load of laundry, and giving baths as my husband showers and helps with dinner. My son pleads with me a few times to play dinosaurs with him. "I want to buddy, I do...just give me ten more minutes."
Eventually the noise settles down and so do we, the three of us crammed into our bed to read a few books before my son goes off to his own. I let him lay with us because I feel guilty about having worked all day and most of the evening rather than connecting with him. My husband opens his laptop and I try my best to feign interest and keep my eyes open as I read Ten Thousand Facts About Reptiles yet again, but I'll read it over and over because I know someday soon he'll be able to just read it himself. On fact twenty-eight, my son nudges me and says "moooom...keep going!" because I doze off slightly. It's not even 8:30. I tell him that's enough for tonight and toss the books aside. We say our prayers and my son requests his nightly bedtime back tickle. As I tickle his tiny, soft back, I take in his precious face and relish in the quiet.
I now feel settled and satisfied, but it's tinged with a little guilt.
I wish I'd made more time for me. I could stay up and take a hot bath or watch my favorite show but my eyes are too heavy.
I wish I'd said more than five sentences to my husband and I wish they'd been something fun, not a reminder that he has a dentist appointment tomorrow.
I wish I'd gotten just one of the papers from my Bag of Good Intentions graded.
My wish list is interrupted by the sound of my phone going off--the familiar ding of a work e-mail coming through. It's now a little past 8:50. I take a glance and notice it's a message from a parent. I sigh and silently wish I taught in 1989 when I would receive a handwritten note at 8:50 in the morning instead.
Against my better judgment, I open the e-mail because the curiosity wins out over my desire to set boundaries. The message is in response to an activity I've arranged for the class to participate in next week. It reads "thank you for doing this for our kids. You are an awesome role model and teacher...you're like a second parent to him. Our son is lucky to have you."
I take a breath and put the phone back down on the nightstand. I needed that tonight. Because, while I'm exhausted, this reminds me that my efforts aren't in vain--that my time and energy that day meant something to someone. I kiss my husband and my son one more time. My husband's "I love you, baby" is sincere and, with my son's arms wrapped around my neck, I am again reminded that the tired and the hustle for my family is also worthwhile--that it's contributing toward something that matters.
Look, I probably won't die rich or well-known by many or having been able to say I traveled the world. I probably won't look back and see a very glamorous life. But I do believe in the things I'm working so hard for. I do believe I'll be able to think back on the hundreds of students I connected with, my marriage, and my relationship with my son and feel I've lived a life worth living--a life that meant something in the grand scheme of things. And that's what keeps me going.
That and the lattes, of course.