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Stay-at-Home Panda

Stay-at-Home Panda

An adventure of triumphs and troubles as a mother, wife, and woman

My First Week Back to Work

This past week my children not only wore underwear everyday of the week, but also, socks and shoes. I didn’t even know we owned so many matching pairs of socks, but I managed to hike them on their feet day after day before the clock even struck 7:30. And no, I didn’t do it in my messy bun and leggings. I was fully groomed myself, and my outfits were complete with a bra. This week, we all started school.

While all the kindergarten moms were getting emotional as their five-year-olds embarked on their first day, I was more concerned with my two-year-old hopping into full days of care, and the classroom I would not only be reporting to, but running. I didn’t shed a single tear, or feel an ounce of nostalgia. Instead my energy went into setting up a classroom, making plans, and lugging bags of books and lunchboxes. I had too much going on to even take a picture of my children with a chalkboard sign.

On the first day, Javin ran up to me at recess with a hug the size of his smile, and told me he loves school. I spied on Ash as I walked by his room, and I saw him napping, which was delightfully shocking. I didn’t know he could do that without my nose touching his. At 3:00, I sent my students on their way and realized the constant questions we have as parents aren’t much different than the ones we have as teachers. You know how you can become insanely protective of a little poppy seed inside you the second you pee on a stick? It’s similar to the intense care you immediately feel as soon as a child steps foot in your room. There’s no such thing as not taking work home, because the children I teach are inside my heart, and I carry them everywhere I go.

We got home that first day around 4:30. Javin was so exhausted he didn’t even want to go to karate. Instead we met up with Josh, and putzed around our neighborhood. Thoughts of my students filled my head. Will they be happy in my room? Are the comfortable? Am I meeting their needs? I would have shared all this with Josh, but I was too tired to talk. I watched neighbors take their garbage cans to the curb, and wondered how people balance this work/life thing. Taking out the trash just felt too big, like maybe it was the only thing I’d be able to do before preparing dinner, lunches, water bottles, and uniforms before going to sleep to do it all over again.

When Javin woke up the morning of Day 2 he cheered, “Yay! Yay! Yay! I get to go to school again!” Ash heard his celebration and said, “Costa Rica!” I laughed as I slid another pair of fresh socks on their feet. I was afraid Ash would object to going back to school, but instead he uttered his teacher’s name adoringly, “Ms. Debra”. Surprised, I inquired, “Do you like Ms. Debra?” He replied, “I love Ms. Debra.” I was mostly elated, but a sliver heartbroken. I’m over the moon he is loved so well at school, and adjusting beautifully, but seriously, is it okay that he now spends the majority of his day with someone else? The only life I’ve known with my boys up til this point is 24/7 togetherness. I dropped them off again, and his ease at saying bye and taking to the train table answered my question. He was happy, and in a beautiful place. A place we all share. Even though we have different rooms we work and play in, we spend the day under the same roof.

I went to meet my students that morning, and was greeted with hugs, news, and questions. One girl is an animal whisperer, and I believe in her abilities with all my heart. Another one sees fairies, the same one who buries herself with a mermaid tail and props her head on a pillow made of sand at recess. Another student wrote me a list of music to check out over the weekend, and another asked me to wear my running shoes so we could race at lunch time. It’s no doubt I have an incredibly special job. I’m not only entrusted with teaching these children reading strategies and math facts, but caring for their hearts. It’s a privilege I don’t take lightly.

I have spent the last five-and-a-half years as a stay-at-home mom. I had endless time on my hands, and no task but to pass it. Jumping back into a career that occupies not only my time, but my thoughts, has been quite the adjustment. By Wednesday I started to wonder if I’d be able to keep in touch with any of my friends ever again. Everything just felt too much. I told myself this is how the beginning of the school year is, and to give myself time to get into a groove. But still, I stayed up too late going over my plans, and woke up in the middle of most nights thinking about my room and students.

On Wednesday, I had Javin with me when we went to pick up Ash. When the two saw each other they dropped everything in their hands and embraced tightly for, no lie, a solid minute. The whole time Ash said, “My Javi, my Javi!” while giggling and jumping up and down a little bit. Of course he saved love for me too. He hugged me tight and rested his head on my shoulder while squeezing my neck saying, “Mommy! I love my mommy so much!” A wave of tears washed over me, but they didn’t well up in my eyes. Not yet.

That night, we still didn’t make it to karate. We had a date with Kate and Mim Mim on Netflix instead. But unlike usual, I didn’t seize the time they were engaged with TV to do something for myself or the house. I just wanted to hold them and breathe them in, so I lied on the couch and did just that. Javin even moved his face up and down gently against mine, and it was sweeter than sugar itself.

Thursday was a tough day for the obvious reasons. It was the end of a busy week of new beginnings, but not quite Friday. When I opened my door to dismiss my students, Javin was standing there holding his teacher’s hand, with tears streaming down his face. He was tired and missed his mama. I picked him up and said good-bye to my third graders while Javin’s squishy cheek and heavy body rested on mine. As we walked to the car, Ash wanted to run, and Jav couldn’t move. I was pulled in two different directions, and still, lugged the bags. It was a late night of work for Josh so I went to a friend’s house instead. When I told her how overwhelming my transition felt, I felt that familiar wave wash over me, and she said, “You’re not going to cry, are you?” Honestly, I didn’t know. The wave stayed with me for the rest of the night and following morning until it crashed on shore.

It was Friday morning when it happened. I dropped Ash into his room, but stayed to tell the teachers how grateful I feel for them, and how much Ash loves them. Of course that was the day he didn’t want to let me go. He asked me to hold him, and he grabbed my neck saying, “Mommy” over and over again. After holding him as long as I could, I had to leave. I went into my classroom, still before my students were there and the tears started to flow. A fellow teacher walked in to share some resources with me, but the papers didn’t matter. All I needed were her hugs. While we were still holding each other, a student of mine walked in. It wasn’t time, in fact, they’re supposed to meet me in a completely different area of the school, but I turned to wipe my eyes, and when I looked back around, he was walking towards me with a cardboard box and a beautiful, gourmet cupcake inside. I went downstairs, to the room we all meet, and the student’s mom said, “He begged me to stop this morning and get that for you.” Again, tears could have fallen. That’s when I realized my tears weren’t sad, but colored with every emotion, not excluding the beautiful or the messy. Crying is simply apart of processing change, and that realization freed me. It reminded me of babies whose tears sometimes aren’t a cause for any big alarm, but just a byproduct of adapting to something new. When my students walked into the room, another present was handed to me by the best hug-giver in class. The gift bag said, “Relax, it’s the weekend” and it had a fortune-telling bath bomb inside.

I decided to take it easy that day. Of course I’d follow through with the plans I had, but I’d prioritize connecting with my students, and enjoying their company. When I gave them a break for snack, I did a french braid in one girl’s hair, and after our morning meeting, another girl taught us all a little French. We went to chapel as a school, and Javin got to sit on my lap while we all sang “This Little Light of Mine”.

On the way home I talked to a parent who told me she thinks I was drawn to the school, partly because I was meant to be her daughter’s teacher this year. It’s amazing how we can get caught up in our emotions, and then something happens to remind us we’re right where we’re supposed to be, for reasons we might not even be aware of at the time. The perfection of everything hit me, and it’s all so beautiful I could cry (again), but instead I’m celebrating having a weekend that actually feels like a weekend, and devouring every precious moment at home with my family, which is somehow sweeter than it has ever been.

About Amanda Elder

Amanda has a background in education, but now spends most of her time snuggling her kids, wiping their butts, and doing house chores in her underwear.

4 Comments

  • Jan Bird says:

    Reading this brings me great joy as I contemplate the energy your family is bringing into the world. The school and its community of students, families, and staff are truly blessed to have you as a part of it, just as the world is blessed to have your family as a part of it. I love reading your articles. Thank you for being you and sharing that with the world. I wish you all an ease and grace in during these next couple of months of transition, with the hubby on a busy rotation, and so many new adaptations. Big hugs and hope to see you soon <3

  • Nancy says:

    You are my kind of Mom and Wife?

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