Last spring during the first wave of the pandemic, I wrote about my mixed feelings over wanting to help. I used to be a doctor, so I felt somewhat guilty not being employed in the medical field where I could serve on the frontlines. I felt like I had abandoned my skill set. I also had to admit that I wanted to be the hero and stick my neck out there and actually do something, as opposed to following orders to shelter in place. On the other hand, part of me just wanted to hide in the closet until this whole thing went away.
This school year, as my children have at times and increasingly spent more time in the physical classroom once again, I have also felt like I have shirked my responsibilities as a room parent. I wrote about my new role almost two years ago on this blog. I was intimidated from the beginning. Room parents have the potential to add so much to a classroom. I don’t feel like I did that in pre-pandemic times, and in the last year, I have definitely taken a backseat approach. Other parents have offered up wonderful ideas for community building, teacher support or space improvements, ideas like special thank you notes, organizing our own picture day, or cleaning shared outdoor equipment. These are all wonderful things! And yet, with each suggestion, I cringed. How would we do it safely? Did it really need to be done? Were we just creating busy work for ourselves?
If I could connect these two observations about myself over the course of the pandemic, I feel like it suffices to say that I wanted to act and yet felt paralyzed from doing so. I became sick of my home surroundings and increasingly interested in spending time out of the house, and yet, in what capacity? Return to work after over nine years? What kind of work? And what if my kids were forced to quarantine and I had to break commitments?
It occurred to me, slowly and then all of a sudden, that the pandemic had recreated the emotional place I was in three years ago when I first sent all of my kids off to school. Back then, I wrote about how I felt overwhelmed by everything I had been putting off and everything I wanted to jump into all at once. I now had a desperate need to be out of the house on top of my desire to reinvent myself by finding a new career or some kind of work to be involved in.
Then, as we anticipated school days expanding to five days full time, I got that dreaded phone call: One of my sons needed to quarantine for a positive case in his classroom. And all I could think was, there will be no end to it. Our house hunt had thus proved fruitless, my weak writing projects bobbed like little leaf boats on the waves without direction and now with a child at home again, I searched for an emergency eject button.
Oddly enough, my escape route channeled me directly into another elementary school. Not as the PTO president. Not as a room parent. Not even as a parent. Hearing the desperation in my voice, a friend of mine connected me to her kids’ school principal who had put out a plea for help watching the kids at lunch and recess.
And that is how I became a lunch and recess monitor.
“So, why do you want this job?” the principal asked me over the phone. “You’re kind of overqualified.”
“You know, I’ve been thinking about my motivations, and it comes down to this: I need to get out of my house.”
And you know what really got me the job? Well, two things: the principal was desperate. And second, she heard the seriousness in my voice. I would be there and on time because I couldn’t stay home another day.
This role, interestingly enough, has also fulfilled my desire to help during the pandemic. Kids have silently shouldered the burden of remote schooling, all the while suffering from loneliness and anger issues in the most mild cases, and I wanted to help fill a gap. Anything to keep the schools running. Plus, I get to carry a walkie talkie and wear a whistle.
Now that I have twelve shifts under my belt during which the kids have reassured me that I hold absolutely no authority, I feel like I’m doing it for another (or maybe a second) reason. Today, after I collected what soccer balls and jump ropes I could find after a blustery time on the blacktop, I returned the equipment to the gym, bursting to share my realization.
And here’s the thing about going into a workplace: There is always that random third party who will listen to your little stories throughout the day, which is pretty cool when you think about it.
So when the gym teacher looked at me and asked me how the day was, my voice echoed off the chambered ceiling as I passionately proclaimed,
“God bless teachers.”
She chuckled. “It’s not easy. You’re doing great though. Thank you for being here.”
We exchanged masked smiles and waves before I santitized my hands for about the five hundredth time in my three and half hour shift and headed out.
Now that it’s (finally) quiet in my house for the night, I marvel at life’s twists and turns.
“You know I’m making more per hour than I did as an intern physician?” I asked my husband the other day.
“Really?” He looked skeptical, thinking of my new minimum wage job.
“Yeah, well, any salary isn’t much when you divide by one hundred hours a week,” I clarified.
“Oh, right.” He chuckled and shrugged.
It’s not really a career move, but it gets me out of the house. Bottom line though, it’s a thing I can do as we look to move out of this pandemic.
Bring on the vaccines for kids. Let’s get there.
Here you will find a catalog of my writing and reflections.