Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Sacrifices of a Stay at Home Mom

I probably should have written this one on Mother's Day, but I didn't. I wrote it today...

I'd always heard that stay-at-home moms made sacrifices, and I always assumed that what people meant by saying that they made sacrifices was that they had to leave an intellectually stimulating career and spend time--lots of monotonous time--with infants and toddlers who wanted them to read for the 233rd time that day the same picture book about the squirrel and the nut. "I have a master's degree," my wife would lament when I called her from work to check on her, "and I'm sitting here building blocks with a two year old!" I used to think THAT was the sacrifice people talked about.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

Let me back up for a moment...

My wife (and I REALLY believe what I'm about to say. This isn't just me saying this
because she's my wife) is the greatest high school teacher I've ever met. When I was a teacher with her at Lloyd High School (and to this day) I was in awe of her teaching ability. Dictionaries might as well put a photo of her beside the definition of teacher. I've never met another educator who could a) entertain students, b) keep them disciplined, c) teach material so that every child achieved, and d) love children. REALLY love children. I think every child that is taught by my wife is CERTAIN that he/she is my wife's favorite, and that he/she is getting special attention from my wife. And I'm not sure that it's not true, as weird as that may sound.

I've met teachers who had one or two of these traits. The really good teachers I know have three of these traits. My wife is the only teacher I've ever seen with all four (myself included--I think I did "a," "b," and "c" reasonably well, but I wasn't so good at "d." I think the students knew I liked them, but they also were aware that I was keeping them at a distance).

In any event, in 1996 my wife was a better teacher than I was, with more education, making more money, and honestly impacting the lives and learning of students more than I was. But then she became pregnant with our first child. And we didn't know how we were going to handle that. We'd both been raised by stay at home mothers, but we didn't have a lot of money saved and we also knew that the 1990's was a different age from when we'd been raised. We talked about several options, the last of which I suggested was this: She had enough sick time once the baby was born to take her through the middle of the second semester of the school year, and we had enough money saved to get us through the end of the year. I'd teach summer school, and we'd save, and we'd find a way to get us through until the start of the next school year. By then the baby would be almost one year old, and maybe I could take parental leave for a year and Lisa could work, and after that the baby would be two years old and old enough to let us know if there were problems at daycare.

It sounded like a plan, but the word "daycare" had the same grating sound in my ear that a piano makes when someone is one note off on a chord. I looked at Lisa and said, "I don't know. I just don't want my child to be raised by a stranger in daycare."

"Me, either," Lisa said with a relieved sigh. And then she said, "I'll stay home with the baby for as long as I can." The decision was made less than 30 minutes after her pregnancy had been confirmed. Lisa would be a stay at home mom.

We knew there would be sacrifices, but as I said above, I foolishly thought that the biggest sacrifices we were making were happening on the front end: the lack of income, the modest homes we lived in, the lack of intellectual engagement on Lisa's part. But I see now that those were the small stuff. The real price is being paid now, and it's not just us that's paying it.

Lisa put her career on hold to raise our kids. I kept working, and now, almost 15 years later, I've moved out of the classroom and become an administrator, and I have power and influence in my school district. Lisa is a substitute teacher looking for a half time job.

But she's still the greatest teacher that I've ever known. At this point in her life, she SHOULD have her doctorate in education and she SHOULD be an administrator somewhere, either a principal or a curriculum coordinator. Her beliefs, theories, and philosophy of education are perfectly in line with the accepted ideas of the day. She was practicing "Response to Intervention"* before there was such a term, and individualized instruction back when teachers operated under the "I taught it and he didn't get it, so it's his fault" idea. I think her time spent as a classroom teacher coupled with her time spent as a director of a Sylvan Learning Center, PLUS her lifelong enthusiasm for teaching (Lisa says all the time that since she was a little, little girl it was all she wanted to do for a career) have all made her the excellent teacher she is. She SHOULD be a leader in a school district--if not the in the state or in the nation--rather than someone babysitting students so that Mrs. So and So can accompany her class to the art museum. She, and society as a whole, are paying the price now for the time that she spent at home.

Don't get me wrong. I don't have any regrets that Lisa stayed home. I've written post after post after post after post after post on this blog about how academically wonderful my children are, and I know a lot of it is because--in addition to the great education they're receiving from public schooling--they had the benefit of a teacher for a stay at home parent when they were young (basically professional schooling with a 2:1 student/teacher ratio) and a teacher to help them with their homework now. I wouldn't trade that for anything, and I know Lisa wouldn't, either.

Like I said, maybe I should have written this on Mother's Day. Why am I writing it now? Mostly because Lisa has been out of town most of this week with our younger daughter, and I've been thinking a lot about how wonderful she is, how much I appreciate her, and the little things she does around the house. Sure, I knew that she did the laundry and the house cleaning (lest you get the impression that I'm some barbaric man who doesn't share in the work around the house, I'll let you know that I do the grocery shopping and 95% of the cooking in the house), but that isn't what's gotten to me--it's all of the organization and planning it takes to be a parent of teenagers. Without my wife here I've had to keep straight when my older daughter is coming home, what activities she has at night, and I've had to help her with her homework. I've also had to prowl through all of the emails that teachers send to know what's going on in classes, when the next practices are, what things we're supposed to bring to school, and more.

And I only had to deal with ONE child. Lisa is having to shuffle two, and she does so and then also balances my schedule and keeps me informed only about the things that I need to know: "There's a band concert Tuesday," she'll tell me. "6 o'clock. Put it on your calendar." I write it down and go to the concert and feel like I'm involved, but Lisa has shielded me from these 14 other emails and the fact that my younger daughter needs a poster board for next Tuesday and my older daughter is supposed to bring lemonade or other non-diet drink to field day on Wednesday and exams are Friday and on and on.

I guess the point of this is that sometimes, if I'm not careful, I can take my wife for granted. She's a fantastic woman, and I'm glad to be married to her. And I'm grateful for the sacrifices that she has made so that my children can be the smart, mature, funny, well-adjusted children that they are.
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*By the way, this link is to one of the WORSE articles on RTI I've ever read, and it points out pretty clearly what's wrong with Wikipedia. The article is disorganized, biased, and filled with misinformation.

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