Today, the best full-time job I’ve ever had is ending. Don’t get me wrong. I’m going back to a pretty fantastic one. But as I pull out of our driveway and say goodbye to my maternity leave, I can’t help but think about the sixteen-pound drooling baby bossman who made that job so wonderful.
I’ve Never Worked Harder
Parenting is a full-time job. That’s a no-brainer. But what I didn’t realize is just how much work parenting is, especially after sixteen weeks of no more than a four-hour stretch of sleep. (Well, there was this one time when he slept five and half hours straight, but I panicked so much that I woke him up. Like an idiot.) In fact, it feels like life has been a series of naps for as long as I can remember.
I’m no stranger to burning the midnight oil. I’ve fielded parent emails at 4 am. I’ve responded to student emails after midnight. But this is next-level tired. This is layer-on-eye-cream-like-frosting tired. This is honey-look-how-tired-I-look, OMG-wait-maybe-my-face-just-looks-like-this-now tired.
It’s exhausting to be on all the time. But every time we read a book or sing a song, I can see things make a little more sense. Watching a living being change so dramatically physically and mentally every day is the most remarkable thing to which I’ve ever been privy. Of course, it’s worth it.
I’ve Never Made Less
I’ve worked jobs where my pay was not commensurate with my effort. Take, for instance, the year-long stint in which I babysat several nights a week for $3 an hour and the little girl would wake up shrieking about rats in the vents (there weren’t) and a grizzly murder in the next room (there wasn’t). Lots of effort—and maybe a case of the creepy crawlies—for little pay. Did I mention that the family rounded down? Three hours and forty-five minutes of care meant $9 of pay. Excellent.
Even so, my maternity leave was something entirely different. It cost me money. Lots of money, if we’re going to be precise. While hospital bills and doctor bills and insurance estimates are still trickling in, I do know that giving birth cost several thousand dollars and staying home cost even more. Not only did I collect no income on my leave, my paychecks will be prorated upon my return. Then, there are all the extracurricular opportunities I didn’t bother applying for. Let’s be real—I didn’t even open the emails. In deciding to take 51 days off work, I will earn $18,000 less over the course of this school year. $18,000. That’s more than half of our spending for an entire year.
But how do you put a price on a smile? How do you decide what sixteen weeks worth of cuddles really should cost? You can’t. So we gladly dipped into our Baby Fund and savored every moment we could.
My Priorities Have Never Been Clearer
For the past decade, I have defined myself as a teacher. If you asked me what I do, I would tell you I teach. If you asked me what I am, I would have said a teacher. If you inquired about my hobbies, I would have said something to the effect of what hobbies, I have 78 essays to grade this weekend. Then, I would have rattled off a long list of young adult books that I love and told you all about the extracurricular work I do with my students. My world revolved around teaching. So much so, that I could never see myself leaving the classroom early, financially independent or not.
Now, I’m so much more than that. I’m an expert stroller pusher and leaf cruncher on morning, afternoon, and evening walks. I’m a piano player with a baby bouncing on her knee. I’m a reader, I’m a writer, I’m a gardener, I’m even an occasional television watcher. I’m a daughter, a daughter-in-law, a wife, and most importantly, a mom. Time away from work has allowed my world to expand in brilliant, albeit simple, ways.
That isn’t to say that I no longer love teaching. As I spent the last week preparing my lessons, practicing students’ names, emailing families, and even taking in a few meetings with my wonderful coworkers, I felt that familiar rush of excitement. The back-to-school jitters coupled with the promise of a year full of new opportunities.
One day, when my son is in a classroom of his own, I hope his teacher feels the exact same way about him and his classmates. But I will also understand if his teacher hurries home a little bit faster or stretches out a family dinner a little bit longer. As it turns out, there is an even better job waiting at home for that teacher.
So Tell Me…What’s the best job—paying or non—that you’ve ever had?