This is an expanded version of a post published several months ago.
My ample midsection cramped up as I stood tapping my foot distractedly outside of a once welcoming room – a room that now held my fate. I tried to ignore the contractions that gently rocked me from the inside out and focus on presenting a confident countenance that would be worthy of hearing the words I had been told I would receive today: “We look forward to having you back as a faculty member next year, Charise.”
A fellow teacher suddenly burst through the closed door. Was that a tear on her face? I tried not to let this rattle me as I reflected on the possibility that the fantastic teacher who just brushed by me was a possible casualty of these district mandated layoffs. I focused instead on the promises this incoming principal had made our staff. He understood that the last thing the children of our tumultuous, inner city school needed was more abandonment. Whether it be by choice or not, these kids already had more people walk away from them in their short lives than most people experience in a lifetime. My students loved me and I loved them. I was respected by my peers and my teaching evaluations were perfect. I had nothing to worry about.
I smiled brightly at next year’s principal and the HR rep as I attempted to squeeze my copious belly into the miniature chair across the table from them.
“I’m sorry… What’s your name again?”
This startled me a bit as I remembered how many times we had emailed and at how many meetings we had spoken recently. Wasn’t I sort of memorable at this point with my 8 1/2 month pregnant belly?
I gave him my name.
“And what do you teach again?”
“Special Ed ELA.”
He scanned a list, really looked at me for the first time, and pronounced, “I’m sorry we will not be having you back next year. Here is the paperwork you need. Thanks for your time.”
I was so shocked that I could not respond. Later, I would think of seemingly one hundred questions and retorts that I should have uttered, but nothing came to me in my paralysis of awe.
Oh my god. We just bought a house. And a car. And we’re having a baby. And I ADORE these children. How can I be without them? What the hell just happened? Didn’t he know how I didn’t think twice about throwing my lifegiving body in the midst of the fights and assaults that happened in our hallways on a now daily basis? Didn’t he know that these kids poured their hearts out to me? Didn’t he know that these children inhabited my dreams on a regular basis?
As the day went on and I saw crying teachers, outraged students, and hysterical children, I came to realize that our status as a turnaround school led to exactly what we were told wouldn’t happen. Eighty-five percent of our middle school staff had been let go.
My voice was shaking as I found a quiet corner to call my husband and share my devastating news. He was as shocked as I was. He actually thought I was joking at first because the news was so unbelievable to him. Luckily, once the reality set in, my wonderful husband responded with nothing but support. He eased my fears, proclaimed the new principal to be a jerk, and told me we would figure things out and that I didn’t have to worry. It was exactly what I needed to hear.
I was able to calm my nerves a bit after that phone call, and switched into action mode. I immediately pulled up my resume and started updating it. I wrote cover letters. I searched for jobs. I sent out networking emails. Being proactive relaxed me. I figured if I crammed this kind of legwork into the next couple of weeks, then I would hopefully get calls to go on job interviews once I was comfortably settled in with my newborn at home.
Well, I was wrong again. The calls for interviews did come, but they all came in immediately after I gave birth. I couldn’t believe how many messages I got during my five day stay in the maternity ward of the hospital. Not only was I recovering from a Cesarean section, but I was having the most sublime and special experience of my life as I spent my first days with my precious son. Returning these calls was not even on my radar. I did have my husband return a couple of the calls for me, but the schools needed to move forward with their interviewing process and no one seemed to have the time to wait for me to recover.
When Baby was about two months old, I received a call to interview at a really amazing school in a district that I would love to work in. Although I couldn’t even fathom going back to work and starting a new school year in a brand new place when my son was only two and a half months old, I forced myself to go on the interview. I held tightly to my pre-baby dream even though my heart seemed to be screaming otherwise at me.
Instead of looking at my layoff as an opportunity, I could only see it as an obstacle. I felt an odd inner pressure to meet the goals of my pre-layoff plan. I had never intended to be a stay at home mom. I always thought I would be out in the world and that I could balance having the perfect family too. I had been taught to believe I could have it all, and I pressured myself to make that happen.
I left my sweet newborn for the very first time to go on the interview. I, of course, felt completely secure leaving him at home with my husband, but after just two minutes in the car after pulling away from my house, I felt sick with grief.
I did not want to be away from my son. Like a ton of bricks, the answer hit me. Yes, I wanted to have it all, but I needed to redefine ALL. I already had my all, my everything. It was back at my house in the form of my newly formed little family. I had a husband and a son that I adored more than life. I didn’t need to look outside my home to have it all.
I did go to the interview, and it went fantastically. The job was high paying for a teacher’s salary and the environment was a teacher’s dream. I had excellent chemistry with the administrators, and I believed I had a very good shot at getting the job. Yet as I pulled out of the school parking lot, I felt very certain of my next move. I would go straight home, hug my husband and my baby, and then send off an email to the school thanking them for their consideration but letting them know that I was going to withdraw my application.
The curriculum may be different, but the process is the same. My days are filled with love and learning, inspiration and hope, and I never dreamed I could be this happy. I am proud to be a stay at home mom, and I am so thankful that I allowed myself to shift my perspective from seeing my situation as an obstacle to an opportunity. Life lesson learned!