This time of the year I get to leave my office before it gets dark. Most days I’m on my way out by 4:30, headed to my other job: soccer mom. I ride my red bike two miles to the soccer field and stand on the sidelines with all of the other parents. Some of the other soccer moms show up in their work clothes too. Some come with three or four other kids in tow. Some arrive with grandparents and spouses. Some coach or bring snacks. The dads always look intent and knowledgeable. I usually roll up fifteen minutes late with my cell phone stuck to my ear and half-graded papers falling out of my bag. I forget my snack day and my kids never have their water bottles. I grade papers during second grade practice and send myself Outlook invitations so I won’t forget about the kindergarten round robin. This working mom juggle is so cliché that I cringe at my own reflection in the mini-van parking lot.
My students know I have children – my boys are still young enough that I cannot always separate their antics from my personality. And parenting is often a point of connection. So many of the faces in my classrooms are also tired and worn by hours spent caring for young children. We all live a sort of crazy half-life: we bounce between a hopeful cerebral world and the mundane constants of parenting. My students make time to study in those brief in-between spaces that parents cultivate. Our brains are fragmented out of necessity – we must toggle between tasks and divide our attention. It’s exhausting.
I find myself apologizing for divided loyalties. I’m late to soccer games and distracted by emails. I don’t always make after-hours work events and I wonder about missed networking opportunities when I’m at basketball practice. But maybe it is the very fragmentation of parenting that allows me to teach. I know that I’m a happier, more tolerant mom when I’m working. The few months that I spent “staying at home” were disastrous (I blame an idle mind for a very crazy 2004). But it also seems possible that I’m a better instructor because I parent. My boys have taught me to slow down and chill out. They have shown me how to approach repetitive tasks with enthusiasm and creativity. I get near constant second chances from my eight year-old. My youngest son tells grand stories and reminds me that I should always listen. At the very least, my kids have taught me to be patient with people who are learning new skills.
My boys and I walked downtown in the rain today. We wore our rubber Wellies and splashed in every puddle for blocks. We walked to the book store to hear one of my colleagues read from her newest collection of poetry. The boys were restless. We were shushed once as I pulled my littlest on to my lap to keep him still. But they sat for half an hour, content to listen to my friend’s voice. I was proud of their intent stares and curious questions. They are learning to appreciate my world of words and stories. My two worlds often collide and it is becoming more apparent that I cannot write an assignment or teach a sonnet without my mommy brain. It also seems like I can’t be a soccer mom without poetry and classrooms.