I planned to mourn my teaching career sitting alone in my empty classroom—sort of like the end of a 1990s sitcom where the main character turns off the lights at the end of the series. Instead, I made small talk with a teacher ten years younger than myself. She was eager to get situated for her new students on that warm June morning.
She pushed a giant cart of colorful paper into my room, hopped on a chair, and began putting up her bulletin boards. “Do you mind if I get started?” she asked. “I thought you would be gone by now.” She sounded upbeat and pleasant, but at the time, knives to the heart would have been less painful.
I was six weeks into my maternity leave and recently decided to stay home with my daughter rather than return to work in the fall. During the end-of-the-year teacher work days, I came back to the building to pack and to say goodbye to friends and colleagues. The only thing left to do was to turn in my classroom keys and to check out with an administrator.
The reality of it began to take hold of me. The classroom belonged to her now, and I was just a visitor.
Before packing to move out
I sighed, bouncing my six week old in my tired arms while balancing a bottle with my wrist. My life had dramatically changed, and I felt ill-prepared, anxious, and exhausted. I sat in my desk chair for the last time, trying to remember how to be confident and positive with my words. I was in the beginning stages of postpartum depression, and I was grasping at anything that felt normal. Watching an enthusiastic, new teacher struggle with a stapler while I struggled with my newborn did not provide the clarity that I hoped to find that day.
I completed my final tasks, and it was time to leave. I buckled my baby into her carrier and lugged her through the school’s double doors and into the summer sunshine.
All packed up
Truly, I wanted to stay home with my baby. It had taken me years to become a mother, and yet, something continued to pull at me. My old life seemed unfinished. I began to think that maybe I had made a mistake. I thought that maybe I should run into the building and beg for my job. Instead, I blasted the air conditioning while my baby cried in the back seat of my car.
I’m not the praying kind, but I prayed for my baby to take a long nap that day. She was a champion cat-napper, and I needed a break that was longer than 20 minutes. I swaddled. I rocked. I shushed. Then I gently placed her in the cradle and tip-toed backwards toward freedom.
Reluctantly, I carried the remnants of my classroom from my trunk into my basement, and finally, I cried. Mercifully, that precious baby slept for two hours. When I heard her on the monitor, I pulled myself off the couch and warmed another bottle. I climbed the stairs to her nursery and cracked open the door.
She saw me, her arms still tucked into her pink blanket, and her eyes widened. A toothless smile crept onto her face and her head bobbed in excitement. It was her first smile, and I like to think that she saved it for her mama on this most challenging of days. I swooped her up into my arms once again, twirled around, and cried a few more tears–this time not for loss, but for joy.