On Being a Teacher Mom

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It’s Mother’s Day and I find myself writing to my daughter.

I’ve been thinking about all of the moments that define what kind of a Mom I am and what kind of a Mom I’m working toward being. I’ve been thinking about the things we do together: we paint, we color, we garden, we read, we sing… we learn letters and numbers and phonemic awareness.

Yea, I know you’re only 2, but you see, I’m a Teacher Mom through and through.

I remember the day I went back to work after you were born.

I got to stay home with you for three months, which is a long time for a working Mom in the United States. Most of that was unpaid, but it didn’t matter. I had it all figured out.

Besides the fact that I love my job, we also needed the health insurance (and income) that my job provided, so it seemed like 3 months would be “a perfect amount of time.”

It wasn’t.

You see, I didn’t realize that I wouldn’t want to go back so soon.

I called up your Grandma who had been a teacher for 36 years.

“I can’t go back Mom. I’m not physically or mentally healthy. It’s not right. Why should I take care of other people’s children and not take care of my own?” I sobbed into the phone for hours.

“You’re right, it’s not ok.” she said.

“But listen to me; You were made for this job. You had a different life, traveled the world, and gave it all up to go back to school for teaching. You are a mother to so many more children than just Liliana. It would be wrong to deny those kids your love.”

And of course, my mother was right. She almost always is. (Almost Mom, don’t hold this over my head next time we disagree.)

I have had the privilege of being called “Mom, or Mami, or Momma” years before I had a biological daughter.

While teaching elementary school, it wasn’t a good day unless one kid accidentally slipped and said “Ok, Mom!” and then giggled hysterically at her mistake.

In Africa my students (and sometimes my friends) called me “Momma Kelly”.

While working in a high school bilingual program, my kids would call out “Buenas Dias Mami.” on a regular basis, complete with kisses on each cheek.

Now, teaching middle school, my 7th grade “Crew” (my family group, homeroom class) will only call me Mom and not Mrs. Anything. So much so that they’ve had students ask if “That pale white lady is really your mom?”

I could never deny those children my love.

But sometimes I feel that taking care of so many hearts means that I slip on taking care of yours.

So, I want to tell you a few things that every Teacher Mom wants her own children to understand:

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that I wasn’t there every time you got sick. I’m sorry that our society values work over family and there were times I just couldn’t take the day off.

I’m sorry that sometimes I gave you Tylenol, sent you to daycare, and hoped that you’d feel well enough to make it through the day.

I’m sorry that while I was holding other children, I wasn’t holding you. Know that I agonized over every second, worrying that you’d call for me and I wouldn’t be there.

Know that while I brushed the hair of a student, I thought about how I wasn’t brushing yours. (I know daddy’s pigtails are ok, but mine are better).

I’m sorry for every boo-boo I couldn’t kiss and for every new experience that I didn’t see.

But please, I need you to understand-

That there are so many people who love you that I’d be selfish to keep you all to myself.

That I put my trust in a community of people to raise you because I truly believe that we are all responsible for raising the world’s children.

That having an extended network of helpers has made you more accepting of others than I could ever teach you to be on my own.

That you are bilingual because of some of those helpers, not because Momma’s language skills are that good.

That while other people were holding you, comforting you, and teaching you, you learned to trust in people, in our interconnectedness, and our responsibility to each other.

Because just as I am I mother to many- you too, belong to many.

And I could never deny those people your love.

I love you,

Momma