Tales of a Teacher’s Wife

It’s 5:30 am and my husband kisses me goodbye before he leaves for work in the cold, dark, predawn. I go back to sleep, snuggled up with the dog and whichever kids are in my bed. In the back of my mind a nagging uneasiness builds. 

An hour later I text him good morning wishes. He likes a funny bitmoji, even though he calls me a nerd. The text is because I love and miss him, but also because I need a text back. I need to know that he safely made his 23-mile commute to the high school where he teaches. Anxiety is a real bitch, but I have learned to roll with it. 

I have minor fears about his daily absence: a natural disaster, unlikely injury or out-of-the-blue heart attack. I worry, on rare occasions, that he will realize he got the short end of the stick and not come home to me. My concerns get shoved into a mental compartment, covered by the white noise of the day. 

The most terrifying thought – the one that grips my heart and makes me dizzy – is that someone will walk into his school with an assault rifle. The frequency of mass shootings at schools is making this fear increasingly rational.   

Last week an unknown student scrawled a message in the bathroom at his school threatening to shoot students and teachers. Law enforcement decided it was not a credible threat. There was no live shooter, no gun on campus. But the door cracked open and the possibility of mass murder at this high school has stuck its foot in permanently.  

My fears slipped from safely compartmentalized to catastrophic. As I often do, I thought through the worst-case scenario. This tendency is oddly comforting when I realize my worry is insignificant: being late for a doctor’s appointment or embarrassed by a toddler’s public tantrum. It takes me under when I get to the thought of my husband being shot at work.  

When I let my mind go there, I envision a blank-faced human, in a state of mind I do not understand, walking up the stairs towards Kevin’s classroom, armed with rage and the type of mass murder machine no citizen has a moral reason to possess. 

I picture my husband’s face going pale and stoic when he hears the announcement: a lockdown is in effect, a live shooter on campus.  

While he locks the door and windows, I hear him calmly telling his 16-year old students anything he can to herd them into a back corner of the room. I imagine him crouching in front of the group, his body positioned to take the first bullet, putting on a brave front while terrified inside. 

In the huddle of students, I see the glow of cell phones as texts go out to parents: We’re on lockdown. I’m scared. I love you.  

I hear my own phone ding. New text from Kev Dawg: There’s someone with a gun here. I’m safe for now. I love you and the kids. 

I cannot, and do not have to, imagine what happens next. The news is filled with body counts and survivors’ gruesome stories. A guilt weighs on me, to be paralyzed with fear at only the thought, when many are traumatized by the reality.  

How can I send my husband to work every morning? How can I send my kids to school? Is my daughter safe at preschool? How can any of us reconcile the plausible fear that our loved ones may be shot during math class?   

I hug my husband tightly when he returns to me at the end of the day. By 5:30 pm I am absorbed back into the chaos of our beautiful everyday life. Kevin plays with the kids as we start dinner, swap stories of minor incidents, scheduling details, funny anecdotes about our wild kids. But now a threat to his life (deemed credible or not) was issued in the building where he spends 40 hours a week. I struggle to sequester my anxiety, and my day ends just as it began – with an unnerving fear of tomorrow.

K and A school
Little Addie’s first trip to see Daddy at work – 2015.

No More Babies

The sanctimommies of generations past would crucify me, but I have had a rough time making the decision to stop having babies. “You have no idea”, they would say, “how #blessed you are to have reproductive choices”. Women have not had this kind of control (or the resulting anxiety) for long. It is a sort of non-problem, like having trouble breaking your $100 bill, being too tall and skinny for pants, or a slow wi-fi connection at a coffee shop.

I thought I wanted three: my mental picture was Kevin, me, and our three little humans. Along the way life changed the vision to two. It’s not a question of being able to handle three kids – I am CERTAIN I can NOT. I can barely raise my two. Nor or am I attached to a family of five. If anything, that provides some downfalls: kids outnumber adults, three would be harder to divide and conquer, two of the three kids would have to share a bedroom, cupcakes and hot dog buns almost always come in even numbers. Less than ideal.

I don’t worry about missing out on a third baby (or toddler), but a third grown kid. It may be an urban myth, but I have heard that elderly people most regret not having bigger families. In my future, I envision lots of adult kids who come home, with their own families, for dinners, who take life’s ups and downs together, who support each other even when they fail to see eye-to-eye. I picture my grandchildren, raised together as closely as my cousins and I were. In my sunset years I want enough kids to care for me – when I inevitably crumble from taking care of them.

I want to be the family in Parenthood.

If only I could envision a picture of life and then paint it in an exact match. The unromantic truth is that practicality, and the unplanned, change the picture. This is what happened to us when we, exhaustively, weighed all the factors. We came up 0-3 on the biggies: money, age, and career disruptions. The thought of another pregnancy is also a true nightmare for me (Kevin too). We have no shortage of love, but some of patience.

And so, for us, two it is.

Of course, my husband and I have always seen this in the same light, with no conflicts, and the decision was a cinch since we agree on everything.

Of course not.

Would I throw all rational reason out the window to have a third? Some days. Would I throw myself out the window to escape the two? Some days. But I’m relieved the decision has been made. We are fortunate to live in a time of so many choices, and to know I even could naturally conceive, carry, and give birth to another baby. Will I regret the call we’ve made? Maybe. I reserve the right to blame Kevin (even though he is clearly the only one in his right mind) if I ever do.

We feel complete together, the four of us, with one little girl and one little boy. And although they have me swimming upstream all the time, my head barely above water, the two kids we are #blessed to have, are perfectly wild and ours.

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One Dozen Fantasies I Have

Sometimes I pretend the mountain of sand my kids track in is a beach on a deserted island.

Sometimes I pretend we stick to 30 minutes of screen time daily.

I pretend I’m the one in charge here.

Sometimes I pretend if I close my eyes and can’t see them, then they can’t see me.

I pretend folding laundry is fulfilling.

I pretend I will always have babies.

Sometimes I pretend I’m developing a harmless and comfortable ailment that, nonetheless, will require an overnight vacation to the hospital.

I pretend I have it all under control, but really I’m 83% shambles and 17% nailing it.

Sometimes I pretend soaking my feet in my kids’ bath water is a relaxing spa treatment.

Sometimes I pretend I’m doing “work” on my phone, when I’m playing Candy Crush.

Sometimes I pretend I’m cherishing every moment, especially the one when my husband was out of town and my 2 year old, my 8 month old, and I all got the stomach flu.

Sometimes I pretend there’s no ache in my heart from raising happy humans, capable enough to leave me someday.

Little Arms

Lately life is all milestones for Addie: preschool, bikes, nail polish and makeup. I tagged along on her first sleepover with her buddy Zoey (and little sister Abby), so I could hang with my mom best friend (MBFF). We arrived a little before dark, Addie with her sleeping bag and no idea what to expect. The girls played, ate waffles with cream cheese for dinner and strawberry ice cream for dessert. They changed into pajamas and brushed teeth together, trying out each other’s toothpaste. By the time we put them to bed (in separate rooms) they both sacked out immediately, exhausted from talking a mile a minute the whole time.

Around 8:30, we officially considered it a success – they were asleep. We were left with nothing to do but chill out, swap stories old and new, eat cake, dream and reminisce. With four kids between us, this is unprecedented. We didn’t even have to deal with the guilt of leaving our kids to spend time together. As glorious as it all was, we’re old and tired. We said long goodnights, appreciating the rejuvenating time between ‘soul sisters’ (a term we used to use ironically, but has now become the truth of our relationship).

I tiptoed into the spare room even though I knew Addie was sound asleep from her deep, long breaths. Her little body was sprawled in the middle of the pull-down bed, surrounded by comfort items from home: the grey and white blanket she’s had since birth, her bear (“Mop”), and the owl she tucks under her chin for comfort, less and less often these days.

Addie Sleeping

As usual, she was drenched in sleep sweat; I brushed her long blonde hair from her face, and lifted her head to turn her pillow over to the cool side. I looked for a spot to slip into bed without moving her but then shoved her, unceremoniously, to the left. As I lay down next to her she groaned and turned toward me. Her warm little arm brushed against mine and my whole body sighed, sagging into the bed, heavy with love.

My first-born’s soft skin sent an electric current of emotions through my body. A love so hard that it pulsed through my veins, making my blood move faster, somehow warmer. My chest tightened with a bittersweet rush of love for this human I created. It stings, just a little, this love, with an almost unbearable awe. I snuggled her close and a wave of contentment washed over me.

Outside the bedroom door was quiet calm. Above me was soft light from a beautiful fixture resembling a circle cut from a redwood tree. My MBFF has impeccable taste. I felt the pull of Friday night exhaustion in my body and mind. My soul was grateful for the gift lying next to me (though I hoped she slept for many hours). I let myself lean into the love, and closed my eyes.

Presidents’ Day Hike

Penny
Puppy Penny – 6 years ago at Schollenberger Park

Three-day weekends mean a day off to sleep late. A bonus day to get things done, have some fun, and get some chill time. An extra day with my main squeeze, an extra night to stay up late. Right?

HA. HA. HA. I have kids.

Holidays now mean Kevin is home from teaching, Addie is home from preschool, and I don’t babysit my part-time third child. They do not mean my kids sleep past 6 am, or refrain from climbing in our bed and complaining, or torturing the dog before sunrise. Monday holidays mean the third day in a row of this, and their pent up energy leaves us no option but to get out of the damn house.

Presidents’ Day was no exception. The morning snuggles were nice, but didn’t last. We bitched and moaned over coffee about needing to get out, but it was so windy and freezing (40 degrees, 55 within the hour). Northern CA winters are rough. Indoor activities would be too crowded for adult anxiety and toddler wildness. With no better options, and the kids trashing the house room by room, we decided to brave a hike at Schollenberger Park. A wetlands area close to us, with stroller-friendly paths, and nice views, it was a free activity: low risk if it failed.

I tricked Addie (3 ½) into getting ready by asking her to pick a ridiculous outfit, and she rose to the challenge: flowered leggings, neon striped shorts, pink tutu, purple rainbow shirt. Owen (almost 2) announced he would be riding his scooter. Kevin and I shared a panicked glance when we heard “DOO RIE!” (scooter ride). The scooter (which he only pushes backwards) means meltdowns over going in the street or heading home, and constant screams of “SELF! SELF! O-OH DO IT!” With an empathetic “sorry sweetie, today will be a hike and stroller ride”, we responded to every cry of “DOO RIE!” with “mm hmm, hike”. He was not comforted, but did get in the car, after a quick 90 minutes of getting ready. Poor Penny Dog ran in anxious circles, begging not to be left behind.

We all had vastly different ideas of how this hike should go. Kevin wanted to run, like we did in our pre-child days. I did not. Penny was delusional about getting ALL the birds. Owen never got over the scooter; he jumped in and out of the stroller, fussing about walking off the path (strictly forbidden). My genetically predisposed klutz, Addie, ran while looking behind her, holding sticks and fruit snacks, until her coughing fits confined her to the stroller. We strapped them both in and walked together in peace, looking at the water, noticing the new SmartTrain in the distance. For 12 seconds.

Halfway around the 2-mile loop, we were in divide and conquer mode. The cold wind in my ears failed to drown out demands for snacks, complaints of kicking, and WHYWHYWHY’s. My shoulders ached from pushing the 70 pounds of double beast stroller over gravel. I wondered WHYWHYWHY we thought this was a good idea. Kevin and Penny were stopped ahead, off the path (I saw passersby frown). I jogged toward my handsome husband, recently clean-shaven after his winter break beard. Fresh air and love lifted me a little. My pretty Penny, my first baby with flopped ears, wagged her curled up tail. Kev waved and assessed the scene, glanced at approaching dogs and clutched the leash tighter. He was waiting to check in, see if I wanted to switch off, or relieve me of a whiny kid.The way he oversees our family is his own brand of romance; he is the glue that holds us together.

Flashing back to those pre-kid days, I imagined K and P had sprinted ahead as I caught up for a second lap. I pictured the leisurely lunch we might have after. Maybe we would go downtown for a beer. Or lounge on the living room floor; I would devour a novel for fun and he would strum the guitar. We would make a little dinner, watch non-Disney-channel TV. We would sleep ALL NIGHT. A wistful pang stopped me.

Then I heard pure joy:

“LOOK THERE’S DADDY AND PENNY!”

“DA-DDY! BE-BBY!”

I pulled back the stroller canopies to see their faces: Addie’s spunky smile and wild eyes, watery from the wind. Owen’s toothy grin and shaggy hair. I looked again at my main squeeze. I saw his heart shine through his whole face. Those old days are gone, but they got us to this perfectly imperfect one.