There have been so many difficult decisions I have had to make as a mother. Ironically one of the decisions I had anticipated being most difficult actually proved to be incredibly easy. Before having kids, I had enjoyed theoretical debating with friends or family about whether I would want to be a working mom or a stay at home mom. I brainstormed pros and cons, sure that the choice would somehow come down to my own sense of happiness and calling. Instead, it ended up being a choice that was completely made for me. I would go back to work, despite crazy circumstances, out of total necessity. And looking at it now I am relieved the decision ended up not being mine. Partly because I would certainly be inundated with plenty of impossible decisions I would have to make but partly because I probably would have chosen wrongly. Leaving my two babies in the NICU an hour away to go act like everything was okay and be strong for 150 teenagers felt like the hardest and most ridiculous thing I had ever been asked to do. But having to be strong, having to take a break from thinking about heavy stuff to ponder plant adaptations, and having a life and role outside of this new all consuming one as their mom proved one of my greatest assets for coping. It's likely not the choice I would have made, but I can see the ways in which it sustained me and I'm grateful for my job and my one part of my old life that God enabled me to keep.
The story of how I ended up being the primary income earner actually starts when I was 16 years old. My dad worked for an oil company and we knew that a big move was on the horizon. One day we came home from school and they told us we were going out to eat and that the restaurant we would eat at would tell us where we were moving. Sitting blindfolded in the backseat I was hoping more than anything we were heading to the Outback Steakhouse. When I got there and saw it, I jumped up and down. I was excited for the adventure and I'm so grateful I had that opportunity to live there. I ended up living in Australia for 10 years, seven years longer than the rest of my family. I decided I wanted to be a teacher in Australia and had my first three years of working there. I made friends I still consider to be my closest friends there. And most importantly, I fell in love there. I started dating Alister when we were 18 and 8 years later, we were very excitedly planning a wedding.
We were both teaching at amazing private schools in Australia and content with our careers and our lives. But our happiness was cultivating big dreams in us. We wanted a house to fill with lots of babies. They had long been named and we spent our final carefree childless years to talk about anything other than the kids talking about our imaginary future children. Every trip back to America was making the cheap housing and delicious Mexican food in Houston seem more and more appealing. Al's family was in Australia and mine was in Texas and I was feeling ready to live in the same city with them again, especially as wedding talk and baby dreams were taking over my life. So we did what was both brave, and arguably slightly stupid but no doubt God ordained- we sold everything we owned in Australia and moved to Houston job less with a couple of suitcases.
Thankfully I ended up in a new teaching job pretty quickly. A friend of my mom's needed a long term Science substitute and from there I ended up with a full time position as a Biology teacher. It was a tough adjustment from teaching Psychology at my small nurturing private schools to now teaching Biology at the big public school and I certainly had days where I did not love it and terribly missed Australia. I never stopped being grateful for the job, however, as Al's quest for a job was proving much more difficult. Immigration concerns initially held him up and then bad luck getting very close interviewing for jobs but not landing the job meant that he ended up subbing full time.
Looking back at it now and knowing how it would all end up, it's easy to wonder why we thought it was a good idea to go ahead and start our family without him being in a permanent position in a school. At the time though, our desire for babies and our intense optimism that a job surely could not be far away were stronger than our fears. I knew while pregnant that as the insurance holder I would end up needing to go back after the babies came and I was okay with that. It seemed like a temporary plan and back then I felt like Superwoman so clearly I could work full time and raise twins. Piece of Cake.
Of course as the weeks passed after my C section and my inevitable return to work date loomed, I started to feel like anything but Superwoman. Staked out at my NICU post, it seemed impossible to just not show up there one day to instead go to work. But, I also understood that being a parent and loving your kids doesn't just mean holding and kissing them, it also means working to have the means to meet all their needs. I knew that my job is how we would hold the health insurance that was saving their lives. I knew that my most important job of being their mommy meant doing my other job of teaching Biology as well as I could. So, in March, about 12 weeks after they were born, I went back to work. And there have been many absences along the way, but since then I have continued to work full time and prioritize my job during crazy circumstances.
I remember that March walking into my classes and having students run to hug me and tell me how much they missed me. I remember having students that were out of control from having had a lot of subs. I remember feeling like I was drowning in paperwork and meetings. It was very stressful but in its own way it was soothing. I would drive to work so upset and worried about my babies and I would be feeling awful about not being there and my head was such an emotional and frantic place. But once I stepped in my classroom, there was simply no time to think about that. Because 30 needy teenagers were there demanding my attention. Sometimes they would distract me with their sweetness and hilariousness. I would find myself caught up in their innocent joys and dramas and be smiling away. Sometimes they would distract me with their deviancy and behavior issues. I couldn't think about anything those days but who, oh who, drew a life sized drawing of Osama Bin Laden on my lab desk and what, oh what, to do about that. Either way, through their charms or their challenges, my students forced a break from my worrying and emotional pain and I desperately needed that!
When friends were hard to keep up with and time to socialize non existant, my short work lunch times and staff meetings would become by greatest social support. My friends I saw at work were the people I told everything to and the people that would love me through the highs and lows. Going back that March I realized how much I did need that and to this day, it is still a huge support system in my day to day life.
By Friday nights, I am so exhausted I feel like it would be completely reasonable to go to sleep at 5pm. There are still days when I would rather hide under my desk and cry than keep teaching. There are students who make me want to pull out my hair. There have been days of sitting in an ICU chair with a laptop trying to analyze grades when my baby was dangerously sick. Teaching while going through these medical crises has been draining, difficult and at times, defeating. And yet I know it has also been a tremendous blessing. I know that it has been exactly what I have needed. So I'm thankful I never had a choice. I'm thankful that I never needed to finish my pro/con list and really decide what I wanted. Sometimes what we want and what we need are entirely different things. I'm grateful for the blessing of distraction, the gift of teenagers and teachers, and the very true idea that what does not kill you, will in fact make you stronger.