It’s September, which of course means back to school time. But not for me. This would have been my tenth year as a school librarian, but last winter my family and I decided I would not be returning this fall. Instead I would concentrate on writing and teaching writing, and on my family.
I always thought that when I made the decision to be a full-time writer, I would be further along in my career. In other words, I thought there’d be a more steady income coming in. But, the situation I had set up for myself was simply untenable.
Each morning my children would get up at 5:00 am, rush, rush, rush to get out the door. I would drop my daughter off at daycare (thankfully on campus), and my son in the lower school library “Early Birds” program with a kiss and a hug and a “Be good! Have fun! I love you!” for “Early Birds.” I would then teach a full day collaborating with fantastic faculty and amazing students. Next I would reverse the process, gathering my kids (typically rushing into the daycare just before they shut off the lights), then get home between five and six. At which I point I would make dinner, help get the kids ready for bed, help clean up from dinner. And then, usually around 8:30 or 9, settle in to do some writing. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure how I managed the rewrites on The Water Castle. I’ll chalk it up to the genius and patience of my editor Mary Kate Castellani. It does beg the question of whether we would have needed so many rounds if I’d been able to focus more closely on the work as I was doing it.
While I was at school, I was happy but frazzled. While I was writing, I was happy but exhausted. While I was with my kids, I was happy, but too frazzled and exhausted to be fully present. And, oh, yeah, there was also my husband. Something had to give. Since my take home pay after paying for daycare and pre-K tuition wouldn’t cover our groceries, the choice became clear. I would leave my job, stay home with the kids, and write. I would also try to get some gigs teaching writing. I was lucky to find a position with the Stonecoast MFA program, a low-residency program that allows me to continue teaching from the comfort of my own home. I am doing some online classes as well through the Simmons GSLIS Continuing Ed Program and the Loft Literary Center. I also have secured the services of a world class Nanny for one morning a week — that’s Nanny as in grandmother (aka my mother), which will allow me more time to write.
I’m not the only one who has made the choice to leave the classroom in order to write. As I was weighing the pros and cons, I thought often of Kate Messner, a gifted teacher and writer who also made this choice. Of course she has found ways to keep teaching including her Teachers Write program and lively school visits. I had always seen her as someone who could manage it all with grace, and if even she had decided that something had to give, then perhaps I, too, could learn to let go.
Jessica Lahey, a middle school English teacher who is taking time off to write her own book wrote this week about not going back to school.
I love September. I love the woody scent of newly sharpened pencils, the chemical and paper smell of textbooks first cracked open, the reassuring cleanse of Windex and Goo-Gone. I nest and organize and stack and wait impatiently for those first students to arrive. As much as I adore the first moments with my students, what I really look forward to are the day in, day out, small moments that make up a relationship.
This year, however, I am adrift.
In my first, awkward post here, I wrote, “I know I’ll feel a sense of loss” when I’m no longer teaching. Well, I was wrong there. Maybe if I hadn’t been so busy, that sense of loss would have crept in, but . . . no.
I think my reaction is somewhere between the two.
Leaving was hard. I had all these great ideas I wanted to try, or ones I had started but hadn’t fully implemented. How could anyone possibly take my place? Or what if the person who took my place did an even better job than I did? I thought that feeling would be even stronger as this time of year rolled around, but I’m finding that my primary emotion is relief. I do miss my students and the faculty. I do not miss that crazy, harried version of myself who was always snapping at her kids to hurry up.
I see this break as a hiatus. We plan to take it year to year. Next year my son will be in kindergarten, so we will only have one child for whom we need daycare. Then the financial equation might shift so it makes more sense for me to be working in a school or library part time. For now, though, I am happy with the balance I have struck between my writing-related work and my family.