After my daughter was born last July—a delicious, roll-covered baby who would be our last—I took an extended and unpaid maternity leave through the fall from my job as a special education teacher.
While my son continued to go to preschool most of the week, I enjoyed the most tender time with my daughter. We had many slow, beautiful days, but when I did return to work, almost as soon as I came back, I found myself leaving again with the COVID-19 shutdown. On a Friday afternoon, I drove us home expecting that we might have a few days off the following week. Never did I seriously entertain the idea that life would change so gravely in the days, weeks, and months to come.
But then, it did.
Schools closed. Daycares closed. Almost immediately, plans were set into motion to create learning opportunities for our students the best way we knew how: online learning modules, paper packets, Zoom meetings, phone calls, accommodations, service delivery, all things documentation (and I do mean, all the documentation). Understandably, the education system was scrambling to meet the world-falling-apart requirements, knowing that decisions made today could be mistakes we have to answer for in the years to come. The dust of reality began to settle.
A Teach-at-Home Mama Struggle
As the expectations to serve my 100+ students began flooding in, I struggled to keep up while caring for my two young children at home. My days consisted of coffee, spit-up, emails, a baby crawling between my legs at all times, and a tenderhearted boy who needed my undivided eye contact and conversation after his normal had been pulled out from underneath him. As paperwork and meeting dates piled up, so did bottles, toys, laundry, and messes. There were virtual meetings with a teething baby on my lap and dinosaurs flying in the background. There were full-on tantrums during phone calls, intense snack bribery, excessive screen time, and almost all days ended with me sobbing into my husband’s chest when he walked through the door. There wasn’t enough of me.
The universe had given me “more” time with my children, but it was anything but quality. Resentment was part of me now: resenting my children for not being patient, resenting my husband for being allowed to work in a silent office, and resenting my career for everything between. I became bitter, and having to look into tiny eyes and beg for forgiveness for my reactions was common. There were many days that this pandemic turned me into an ugly mama.
I spent countless afternoons paralyzed in front of the television, feeling exceeding hopelessness and plagued by endless news coverage and new governor announcements. There was no part of me that was sure of what I wanted them to say; any decision would bring another new, unknown reality with yet-untold fears and unrealistic expectations. The only thing that I really wanted was normal.
Periodically, I would consciously lay my worries down and just be their mama—something I wished I could have been doing all along. On these rare occasions, God allowed me to see ideas click in their tiny minds. I videoed my little girl taking her first steps across our living room; I looked on as my little boy swam for the first time floatie-free. There were moments of us all growing and learning how to survive this together. It wasn’t all sweet, but it wasn’t all bitter, either.
A New Normal
Now, even as the uncertainty of our world continues to suffocate our communities, the decision to return back to “normal”—whatever that may look like now—has been made for us and we are returning back to in-person school. The emotions of teachers are a whirlwind, but regardless of the weight we feel, we will walk into school in ten days and show up for our students.
Anticipation of what the school year will be like has drained the teacher and mommy inside me. Some days I wish I could stay in this safe little world I’ve created with my own children forever, as chaotic and impossible as it may have felt. Other days, I long to smell my classroom again, and look into the eyes of the kids I’ve worried about since March—kids who fundamentally depend on the love of their teachers.
My heart aches with the worry that I could be making a mistake with our decisions.
I know my son will be filled with joy to return, but I wonder if he will adjust. Will he be behind? Will he be frightened? For my daughter, things will be significantly harder. She doesn’t remember daycare and she’s never met her teachers. I will have to hand my baby off to a masked stranger in a parking lot, and let her watch all she knows drive away. Will she be okay? Will they hold her like I do?
"I will have to hand my baby off to a masked stranger in a parking lot, and let her watch all she knows drive away. Will she be okay? Will they hold her like I do?"
Nothing feels safe, nothing feels right, and nothing feels fair.
I feel equally as out of control as I did when this all began. I’ve watched my children age before my eyes from March to August. I’ve watched them cultivate the ability to give grace and forgive my mistakes, and the guilt from letting chaos overwhelm and rob me of the time I had wrecks me, as I always knew it would. More days than not, I am in denial about going back to any other reality outside of the bubble we have lived in for so many months.
However, while I know it will be taxing on me to hand my babies back over, I also know that I will undoubtedly be pouring into a child of another scared mother. I will be loving hundreds of them from six feet away.
We—teachers and moms alike—may have regrets, doubts, fears, and even anxiety about what the future may hold, but the truth is, we are all doing the right thing: moving forward in the only way we can, together.
Disclaimer: Mom Voices on this site are personal essays by contributor moms and opinions expressed are not necessarily reflective of the Truly Mama brand.