I got through my first year of teaching by getting drunk every Saturday and going to church every Sunday. It isn’t a pretty truth but there it is. It helped that my roommates made sure I wasn’t alone on the weekends in case I had panic attacks. And Karen kept me hydrated on a nearly daily basis with Starbucks hot chocolate.
On weekends before my sister and brother in law moved out of the country, I would ride the train to their home an hour west and play with my nephews and cry for hours on my sister’s bed. Suffice it to say it was the hardest year of my life.
Early on I got a care package from a dear friend in Minnesota, a teacher himself. When I called to thank him I asked, “How do you do this? How can you possibly survive being a teacher? I don’t think I can make it through the year.”
He said, “Yeah, but it’s like marriage. You can’t let yourself think about divorce. You don’t give yourself that option.”
There are plenty of really good reasons why people get divorced. That’s not the point of this blog. His words have stayed with me because they offered me a different truth. By giving myself the option of leaving, I would be gone long before I walked out of the door.
A few days later while talking (crying) to my dad on the phone he said the other big truth of that year. “Raye, pretty soon this year will be a distant memory.”
I didn’t leave. That year was impossibly hard. The kind of hard that plumbs the depths and changes you forever. The kind that leaves you sitting in Lake Michigan a month after the end of the school year, so drunk you can only crawl, screaming at God until there aren’t any more tears, there isn’t any more voice.
I started therapy the following week. (I like to imagine that God was sitting next to me in Lake Michigan.)
Parenting, for me, has been a different kind of hard, but the same kinds of panic. The first few weeks my husband had to rearrange his schedule to be available in the event that I started to go to the dark place, as I like to think of it. The first few weeks, I visited the dark place daily. But as time has gone on, the visits have spread farther and farther apart.
I don’t get drunk anymore. I still go to church (almost) every Sunday.
But parenting, like teaching, has taken me to the edge of the place where I draw my limits, where I put up my boundaries. And then it has put me in a M52 turbojet and taken off. I don’t really know what or where my boundaries are anymore.
Last night my baby woke up at 11:30pm, shortly after we went to bed following a dinner with friends. He did not fall back asleep until 1:45am. We are welcoming his first tooth. My alarm went off this morning at 5:15am. I honestly don’t know how I got myself out of bed this morning.
I didn’t know it was possible to be exhausted to the point of nausea, and still cradle my son with awe and wonder, even as the thought, “This is ending with you going back to sleep whether you like it or not” scrolls across my brain like a screensaver.
Last Sunday I was driving home from a friend’s house, baby in the backseat. I was trying to wrap my mind around how I would find the inner resolve to get through the work week. It was dark, and I was waiting at a red light. I looked to the east, and there was the moon. Full, and so bright the whole sky was awake.
It reminded me of that first year teaching. Everyday I drove down Lake Shore Drive. And everyday I made a point to look out over Lake Michigan and admire the beauty of the sun coming up, its rays kissing the water, showing off its artistic ability. I thought of it as choosing life each day, instead of choosing death. Choosing to live that day, instead of just surviving. Choosing not to walk out the door. Choosing to remember that the day would not come again.
The light turned green and I was brought back to the present. I drove the rest of the way home, but I kept glancing over at that full moon. There was not an answer to my questions, other than to get up each morning and do the next thing.
But for right then, there was just that moment, that moon, that sky. There was just the decision to choose life.