It was HOT yesterday; 101 degrees hot. It was so hot that when I opened up my car door at 2:30 to head home after a long morning of back-to-school meetings and workshops I thought I would spontaneously combust.
At one of the breaks during a workshop yesterday I overheard a new colleague talking with her boss. The boss had scheduled a meeting for later that day and the new colleague couldn't make it. She didn't provide a reason, but the boss kept probing.
"Is it an appointment? Can you reschedule?"
"No," the new employee simply said, her eyes steady, her chin held a little high. She was unflinching, yet I saw a little wavering in her lips. I recognized it well.
Hold strong, I said to myself, hoping I could send vibes her way through some type of thought transference. I knew, from talking with her earlier in the morning, that she had two young children. I also knew instinctively, from my heart to my bones, the way all working mothers do, that the reason she couldn't attend this impromptu meeting was because of a childcare issue.
Back when I first started teaching I would have offered up a zillion other excuses rather than admit to a superior that I couldn't attend a meeting because of my children. In that new colleague's face I saw myself, seven years ago, wearing my motherhood buried underneath layers of what I thought was a professional, necessary, exterior. I was fiercely proud of my motherhood, and deeply in love with it, too, but I intuitively sensed a lack of acceptance of it at work; and when childcare issues arose as they constantly did I felt the stress mount inside, that fear of discovery, of a weakness laid bare and open--ready to be pounced upon.
But that was then. I'm older, and maybe a little wiser, too. Even if some of the professional world doesn't see it my way, I am proud to wear my motherhood openly now. I know it's made me not only a better person, but a better, more patient, more capable teacher, too.
I left the meeting early, at 2:30, so I could pick up L. from school. As I stepped out into the blazing heat (I swear I heard my clothes sizzle), I passed another colleague--one coming, just as I was so obviously going.
"Are you leaving early?" He asked.
"Yup," I said. And then I surprised myself by wincing, just a little--not outwardly as in the old days, but inwardly, just a teeny bit--an old habit, I think.
"A-HA!" He said, jokingly, but with a tone that implied I was sneaking off, doing something wrong.
"I have to pick up my son from school," I said, then wondered why I felt the need to justify my departure. But it felt good, anyway, saying the words out loud. I said them for myself, and for that new colleague, still finding her way; I said them for my kids, and for all the moms out there who straddle two worlds (or three or four). I said them for that part of myself that still feels a little raw and vulnerable and exposed, even after all these years.