Is there such a thing as true work-life balance?
In college, I was busy with classes, homework, and my job. But as busy as I felt, I still found it pretty easy to make time for a football game or a movie. Then I graduated and got married. I was busy with my first year of teaching, in addition to figuring out how to blend “his” and “hers” into “ours” in our new little apartment. Fast-forward five more years to having a baby and starting to work on my first master’s degree. Work, baby, classes, baby . . . and baby some more.
Today I’m still a wife and mommy, teacher and student. But another role has come to the front lately: daughter.
My mom was diagnosed with stage-four lung and brain cancer about sixteen months ago, and her battle is now coming to an end. I’ve received heartbreaking phone calls while at school; my students have seen me cry. I’ve also been fortunate enough to take a couple of days off to just be with her, which is also hard because she sleeps a lot and when she is awake she is very uncomfortable. Sometimes when I’m at her bedside, I’m wishing I was at school. Sometimes when I’m at school, I’m wishing I was with her.
I have come to one conclusion through all this: My work as a teacher balances my life. For this, I am truly blessed. When everything at home is chaotic and just plain yucky, I can come to my classroom and just be me. I work with the best people on Earth. I get my recommended daily allowance of hugs, usually by the time the first bell rings. My email inbox overfloweth with warm wishes. I have lost count of how much food has been brought over to my house. I know if I need anything—and I mean anything—all I have to do is ask. And even when I don’t ask, it magically appears from someone who read my mind.
Looking back at a couple of my sadder moments now brings a smile to my face. The day I got that bad phone call and teared up, one of my students asked me what was wrong. I told him my mom was really sick and I couldn’t talk about it right then, but that I would later. He said, “I know it’s hard. I’ve been there . . . twice. I understand that you’re sad.” His compassion warmed my heart that day, and it continues to do so now.
Another day when I was upset about my mom’s situation, I managed to make it out into the hallway with one of my wonderful paras before the tears came. When we were about to go back in the classroom, I asked him if my make-up had smeared. He said, “Yeah, just a little,” and pointed to his face to show where my supposedly tiny smudge was. I dabbed and asked if it was better. “No, there’s just a little . . . over there . . . um, maybe you want to go to the bathroom and look in a mirror.”
I did, and my jaw about hit the floor! It looked like I had a taken a left hook from Mike Tyson; there was an ocean of black eyeliner on the entire western hemisphere of my face. When I finally got it chiseled off and made it back to my room, I wasn’t sure if I should hug Mr. It’s-Only-a-Smudge or hit him (don’t worry, HR, I didn’t do either).
For everything there is a season, and in this difficult time I am especially grateful to work with not only awesome teachers, but wonderful people as well. Home may be where the heart is, but school is where my heart is lifted.