"Was it hard to leave your baby this morning so you could come back to school?"
Yes, it was.
I've done it before; I've dropped three month old Ruby off at daycare early each morning and picked her up late in the afternoon. When Max was six weeks old I left him and Ruby in Whitney's capable hands at the house we all shared. And this morning I dropped Max and Ben off at their new babysitter's house. Thankfully, Max was just fine with it all and went to go play without missing a beat and Ben is too small to think about it one way or another (that I know of). But my heart, once again, felt bruised as I walked out the door and got into my car.
I prayed a repetitious rosary all the way to school. I smiled bravely and thanked all who welcomed me back. The day happened and I felt like I had been dumped into the deep end of an ice cold pool and was desperately trying to keep my head above water.
When a teacher takes some time off, be it a day or weeks or summer break, there is always that glimmer of hope at the back of his/her mind that perhaps "absence makes the heart grow fonder" will apply to their students feelings for them. Aside from getting a group hug from the 7th graders, I am sorry to report I did not see that in action. The kids weren't trying to be difficult or unpleasant on the whole, but there were some definite boundary pushing moments. And at the end of the day, with about ten minutes to go, one of the sunny, chatty sixth grade girls posed the question which I'd been asked in several ways throughout the day, the question which begins this post.
I almost cried right then and there. I maintained my calm and composure as best I could. "Yes. Yes, it was hard. Because, you know, I really do like you all. But who do you think I might like to spend time with more: other people's children or my children?"
"Your children, of course!" a few of them chorused.
"Yes, I can't really help it. I do like you all, but it is hard to be away from my own kids. And it is especially hard when no one here is listening to me. Why am I here? Why am I paying other people to watch my kids and spending my time being ignored by other people's kids? It's not worth my time. I try to make every class worth your time. I hope you will make it worth my time, too."
Perhaps that was an impolitic thing to say; don't worry, I doubt that it penetrated too many of their souls. A few seemed to have a bit of a lightbulb go on but most just assumed the look they've gotten so used to wearing: a look of practiced and mostly pretend penitence for special lectures about their various flaws as a class. But lasting behavior change isn't something I've seen much of from this group yet. Maybe it's because it is early days still; that's what I hope.
On the way home, I felt numb. Is this worth my time? Is this worth the small remainder of a paycheck that I keep after deducting childcare expenses? What is in it for me? Such self-centered questions as these flooded my mind as I drove in the rain and rapidly darkening afternoon. I picked up my sons from the babysitter. Max did not want to leave; he was having too much fun eating Cheezits and enjoying running around a house whose living room was probably equivalent to the square footage of our apartment (which is still not saying that much, given that we live in 500 sq. ft.) He groused about getting into the car, and what I really wanted was for him to be so happy to see me and come home with me. I wanted a smile from Ben, that first sweet smile of recognition. Not today.
Here's the thing: I enjoy the kids (usually). I like my colleagues. I like English and History, the subjects I teach. I like to think that I'm making a difference in their lives. But if you add up all the pros and cons of the situation (and I have been, frequently), I think you find that most of the sacrifice is on my side of the equation. What am I getting out of it? Not as much as I'm putting in, that's for sure.
But "What am I getting out of it" is not really a Christian question. It's the kind of question that I'm sure tortured Jesus when he was being tempted in the desert and when he was sweating blood in the garden of Gethsemane. What is he getting out of loving me? The Son of Man came as a servant of all; servants don't ask, "What's in it for me?" God isn't primarily interested in me being happy and getting my way. He wants to make me a saint, not self-satisfied.
I only get the grace sufficient for the day; give us our daily bread, as we are told to pray. It must be time for bed, because I'm about out of grace to get through today.
P.S. Why did I take the time to write this; time which could be spent doing, oh, a million other things that need doing? Because, as Graham Greene said, "Writing is a form of therapy." And the same things all of these other writers said, too.