A few months after my first was born my husband said, “It seems like you were happier when you were working than you are now that you stay home.” In other words, he punched me in the gut. I felt a defensive, sad, and guilty because in many ways he was right and I didn’t want to admit it. I’ve wanted to stay home with my kids all my life – I wouldn’t trade it for the world or the paycheck or the 9 to 5 adult conversation. But it was true – I was stressed and often unhappy. My baby had reflux and I had overactive let-down and excess milk. He cried a LOT. He didn’t gain weight well. We went through three to five outfits each a day, multiple sheets, all the burp rags, and a ton of laundry detergent. I was exhausted. I carried him around non-stop and adored him like I’d never loved anyone before, but all the same – I missed adult interaction, using my mind, doing what I was good at (I didn’t feel very good at motherhood), taking a break, and being challenged.
Things got better and easier and the stress lessened (slightly) and changed (every day). I started volunteering as director and teacher for a local ESL program. Malachi got a prescription and my boobs calmed the heck down so he was able to sleep, gain weight, and eat in peace. I fell more and more and more and more in love with my son. I stopped bleeding and started napping and things got a LOT better. But I was shocked – shocked – at how much I missed my job.
From the time I was a child I knew I wanted to be a teacher until I hit middle school and felt called to missions. So it was no small providence that I combined both and ended up teaching English to international students. I loved it. I loved them. I was good at it and I thrived on it. Teaching ESL became a huge part of my identity. And teaching was the first job I ever enjoyed. I loved what I did and I loved who I worked with. My happiest memories of that job are the summer I worked 60 hours a week, even though I never slept or cooked anything decent. I fully expected to fall in love with my baby and be overjoyed to be home with him – and that happened. But I didn’t expect to grieve the loss of my job – which also happened.
After Malachi got older I started wanting to work part-time, teaching one or two clases a week. I knew I would like spending the majority of my time at home but also to go back to a job, ministry really, that was so fulfilling to me. The thought still appeals to me. I tried and asked and searched and attempted to tutor for a while but still there was nothing.
Then this past summer my old job offered me a class – one I had taught before and loved. I was thrilled – I nailed down childcare and talked to Jeremy and got way ahead of myself in my excitement. But after a lot of prayer and thought and agony, I turned it down. The timing was bad, the commute was bad, and it would have been really weirdly hard on my kids because of all the minutae.
Within a week a new ESL program was created in the city. It was intended as an adult community outreach. The faculty were diverse, it was close to my neighborhood, and they used curriculum I have used and taught before. I applied and interviewed and nervously waited and prayed. After my interview I discovered that although it was only 6 hours a week and payed well, it was during the worst possible 6 hours of my week it could be. I wanted the job but I didn’t want the job and I warred with myself over it while I waited for a call. Then finally I got the call and they had offered the job to someone else. My pride took a blow but my heart felt relief, and once again I was shocked.
Over the past few years my heart and mind have grieved and let go of my old job. I still miss it, but not in the same way. Letting go of a job and having a child is similar to letting go of your only child and having a second – the relatioship changes, who you are changes, and the adjustment is wonderful and priceless but also painful and surprising. I’ve also gotten really, really stupidly busy. I volunteer too much and take too much on and when I get stressed and overwhelmed it strains my relationships at home. Over the summer everything went on hiatus – both my volunteer positions, Malachi’s pre-school, Bible study, and at least half of our small groups. And it was wonderful. I had so much more patience with my kids, and we spent so much more quality time together. We baked cookies and went to the park and played games and napped and threw plans out the window to eat popcorn and watch movies instead. And in those moments, on those good days, I realized that THIS is what I want to be doing with my days. And that the biggest thing keeping me from it was my own overcommitedness (<– new word). I miss my old job because it was wonderful and I loved it, but it’s no longer what I want to do. Not all the time. I romanticized the wonderful aspects of it and diminished the things that would be challenging and God used two no-go job offers this summer to show me that.
I still hope down the road I can teach again and I believe I will. One day the timing will work out and my kids will be ready and I will be fully confident that it’s the right thing. But now I can look at it honestly. I can look at my kids and know without a doubt that I would rather be home with them. And I can look at my teacher-self and know that she is a part of me, too, and that one day she may get to shine again. But when I look at Christ, I realize that HE is what defines me. Everything I am – mother, wife, teacher, leader, volunteer, friend – is tied up in Who He is. And for this season, whether long or short I do not know, he has called me to be here, in this moment, with these children. Maybe I’ll get a job offer tomorrow and I’ll take it, maybe I’ll go back to work when my kids are in school, maybe I’ll homeschool and never go back to work, maybe we’ll move overseas and everything will change. I don’t know and that’s ok. This summer I needed to let go of what I thought I wanted to realize that I what I truly wanted is what I already have. And I have found so much freedom in that.