Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Designing My New Identity

I just love those “All About Mom” questionnaires that teachers have young kids fill out before Mother’s Day. You learn so much! In my son’s case, I learned that his favorite thing to do with me is read (yay!) and that I am best at “jogging and yoga” (this is not even remotely true, but bless his heart). One question and answer, though, triggered some thoughts.

Here’s how he completed the sentence “My mom’s job is”: Cabnet desiner.

This is also not correct, but I didn’t tell him that. I do work for my husband’s business, which builds custom cabinets and furniture, but I don’t do any of the design work. I am a very verbal former English teacher with almost no capacity to create a mental image of, well, anything. I look at floor plans and can’t envision how the cabinets are going to look in the room. After four months, I’m still not entirely sure what “full overlay inset with a bead” means. Trust me, no one wants me designing (or desining) their cabinets, much less building them. But of course I didn’t tell my son that, because I try not to nitpick. He knew it wasn’t really correct, though.

A "cabnet" I had nothing to do with. You're welcome, homeowners!
“I don’t actually know what your job is,” my son confessed. And honestly, I wanted to say, “Honey, neither do I.”

Up until December, it was easy: “My mom’s a teacher.” Oh, a teacher! That’s a profession everyone has a pretty clear understanding of, since most people have attended school at one point or another. When I told people what I did, I heard a lot of, “I don’t know how you do it. I couldn’t teach school.” And I would laugh and say something like, “Well, you really have to feel called to do it.” I still believe that. I’m thankful for all the amazing teachers who are fulfilling their calling even under the current educational conditions (don’t get me started!)

But by the end of 2014 I knew I had to walk away from teaching. It was draining away too much time and energy and I no longer had enough for my family or even myself. My husband saw how miserable I was and offered to let me work for him, once our partner okayed it. It was a big step of faith and I was ecstatic for the first three months. “You mean I can watch TV after the kids go to bed instead of grading more papers? I don’t have to try to make anyone else do their work? I can go to the bathroom whenever I want? THIS IS AWESOME!”

All of those things are still true, but for the last month or so, I have been struggling. My title is “Office Manager” but what am I actually managing? Both partners have been taking care of things on the fly for so long that I’m having to figure out as we go what they can have me do instead. Some of my days are full while others are not so much--but I need to be available. For example, when the crew needs materials, I can go pick them up. “Going to get things so the owners can do more important things instead” is not exactly what I’m used to. I think what I’m wondering is, “Am I actually useful?”

No. What I’m REALLY wondering, deep down, is “ Am I good enough, just in and of myself, to be on this planet, to be taking up space?”

I’ve been trying for so long to earn my right to be here, to matter, to feel I was making a difference. Many people feel teachers do make a difference, so that seemed to be my answer. Looking back, I’m still not sure if I made a true difference with my high school students. Most of my former students are happy to see me and say sweet things, but basically it could just be that I was nice to them and not that I actually inspired them to do anything meaningful.

Whether I was inspiring or not, I do believe I was supposed to teach for those years. I did my best because I was called to be there.

But that was then. And now I’m starting to understand that I’m called to be somewhere else. In the office of a dusty cabinet shop, shaping order out of chaos a little bit at a time, making things work a little more smoothly, solving minor problems so they don’t become major ones.

And then I get to drive home and spend my evenings more involved with my kids and husband than I used to be. My son also said he knows his mom loves him because she snuggles with him (and reads to him). Not that I never did that when I was teaching, but it’s easier now.

Whatever my job description is, I now have some super-awesome perks and a great boss.

Why I do what I do.
And let’s face it, it’s also nice to be able to go to the bathroom whenever I want.



  1. Wonderful words, inciteful commentary, and great tone, I enjoyed reading your post and look forward to more of them in the future. You did have an impact as a teacher by the way...don't ever doubt it, but you are sure to have an even greater one as a mom.

  2. HOLY (expletive deleted), do I EVER get this. We hang around with a group where most of the men and some of the women used to work at the same fibre optics company. Then a bunch of them got laid off with really good severance packages, but my husband stayed. Then I was bitter because a bunch of them retrained and did things where their wives could work for them. Although to be honest, if I tried to work for my husband, we'd probably kill each other. You deserve your place in the world no matter what you do - and 'just being nice to them' is a HUGE part of being a great teacher, when you think that those kids have to see you five days a week for most of a year (not that I don't think you were most likely a great teacher in other ways too). And it is nice to be able to go to the bathroom by yourself - which I could, right up until we got the puppy. Sigh.

  3. I totally get this, too. Lately I've been trying to figure out my own place in the world - what I *want* is really the hardest thing. For now, it's enough to fill my days with activity and spend time with the family - but I feel a lot of pressure to have long term goals and plans.

    Sounds like what you really need right now is just a recharge and reset - and this job sounds perfect. I think teaching is the hardest job there is - needing to move onto something new is absolutely understandable.