My first child was born one year ago today. She was a “pandemic baby” so there are a lot of experiences that she hasn’t had yet. We haven’t been able to take her too many places. She goes to daycare, but we haven’t gone to the zoo or museum yet. She just went to the grocery store last week. Her mother and I are quite literally her whole world. What I didn’t count on is how quickly she would become ours. I wouldn’t have it any other way. However, there is one hiccup in this development: She is carving out space that was previously occupied by my students.
Before she was born, I had the reputation as a workaholic. At any given time, I have three sometimes even four jobs. None of them take up the amount space that teaching does because none of my other clients ever occupied the space in my life that my students do. But there is competition for them there now. That competition comes in the form of an infant, now toddler, who despite appearances will easily take out 100 plus teenagers if the battlefield is in my heart. She will always win eventually. The writing has been on the wall since November 9, 2020.
But that doesn’t mean that there hasn’t casualties on both sides.
When she was first born, I like any other passionate inner-city teacher who believed that I could do everything the same way I had been. The “way” was working through the night grading papers and making engaging lesson materials. I don’t have to tell any parent why that didn’t work out. There are too many things a baby needs for me to work the same way I did before at home. Something had to give and obviously it was school. I am still an effective teacher, but my students aren’t getting graded papers back like they used to. I don’t deliver new content as frequently as I did before either. I’ve had to learn that sometimes the slide presentation is “good enough.” I looped up with my students from last year. They still enjoy my class, but they have noticed areas where I dropped off.
“Mr. Pillow, I didn’t get to that last question yesterday. You didn’t even say nothing though. Last year you would have been on my head.”
He’s right. October 2020 Mr. Pillow would have had him working on the incomplete assignment during lunch. October 2021 Mr. Pillow wasn’t even aware he didn’t finish. I don’t look at assignments the same day anymore. I aim for weekly and sometimes fall short of that.
This isn’t only a matter of diminished capacity. It is also about diminished desire.
As my daughter got older, and I grew more and more attached, it wasn’t just about her not sleeping through the night or crying when I was on trying work on the computer. Her mother is willing and able to watch her when I have other things to do, but I don’t want to have other things to do anymore. I want to spend that time with her.
I’ve missed things. Realistically, I won’t see every milestone, but I should at least see the ones at home. I missed her pulling herself up to stand for the first time. I was two feet away with my back turned on my laptop internalizing a lesson about latitude and longitude.
There are nights where I feel like a bad teacher. Like the night I wasted valuable work hours watching my daughter clumsily attempt to navigate taking a selfie on a smart phone, but I slept well that night. It’s the nights where I feel like a bad father that keep me up such as last night when I was up until midnight working on a lesson plan for the 13 colonies. It will be a bomb ass lesson, but I didn’t sleep well that night because all I could think about was what I missed when while working on that lesson. My daughter might as well had been up crying all night like she did for a while when she first started teething. I almost wish she did wake up … at least that way I could feel like I contributed as I put her back to sleep.
“I love them like they were my own.”
Teachers say this often. They are lying. Or they don’t have kids. Because it doesn’t compare. Nothing does.
However, this is not a resignation letter. I do still love my students. Actually, choosing them even one night a week over playtime with my daughter is an act of love in and of itself. When I’m at school I have no problem being all in. But I do need to find a way to get my work done at work because when I get home, I’m not Mr. Pillow anymore. I’m daddy. Which is the way it should be.