Monday, March 24, 2014

Life is not always picture perfect

From Saturday's Briefing:

The past school year has been a huge, mostly happy adjustment in our home.
In August, I began a new career as a fifth-grade teacher, a move that required sacrifices from all three of us in the house. In the year before, I spent most of my free time preparing — taking online classes, reading, writing essays and studying for the state exam.
It was time that I normally would have spent with Cooper and Katie. On some of my most time-crunched days, I would apologize with the promise that the rewards would be worth it — a week off at Thanksgiving, two at Christmas, another at spring break and almost all of summer. And, I would sometimes add, I planned on absolutely loving my job as a teacher.
So far, the plan has worked out beautifully. Mostly.
We’ve already enjoyed those four promised weeks together. Summer’s not far away. And I absolutely love teaching.
No doubt, though, there have been some hiccups along the way.
Those four weeks off throughout the year come at a price. The weeks that I am working are intense— eight, nine or 10 hours at school plus planning and grading at night and on weekends.
That full-time job often collides with my other full-time job as mom and manager of our home. As much as I had hoped to hold on to my usual standards, there’s been some slippage here and there around the house.
Margie the dog desperately needs a haircut.
There are precariously tall piles of paperwork that need to be filed.
It’s clearly Easter season, but there’s still a giant snowflake decorating the kitchen chandelier, and I noticed this week that Christmas cards are still hanging in a small hallway.
Perhaps most telling: Cooper went to school Tuesday wearing a Muppet T-shirt of his own choosing. It wasn’t until late afternoon, after we both were home from school, that I remembered that Tuesday was picture day.
My seventh-grader has never once in all of his years of preschool, elementary school and middle school — until Tuesday — worn a T-shirt on picture day. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
Standard attire has always been a collared shirt — even for the spring photos that usually feature goofy poses and fussy backgrounds, the kind of photos we never buy.
Even though I read the reminder emails, I failed to type “picture day” on my Google calendar, thus allowing the whole idea to fall out of my head.
Cooper and I laughed about the Muppet shirt, and, perhaps in an effort to make me feel better about forgetting, he told me that most boys were wearing T-shirts, “Only the girls were dressed up, wearing makeup and stuff.”
He then re-created the goofy pose, made all the more ridiculous by his mocking smile and rolling eyes.
And with that, I let it go.
I long ago gave up the idea of being a “perfect” mom, trading it for the idea of doing my best — not someone else’s idea of best. In the past year, I’ve been refining that idea even more, working toward my best but forgiving myself more easily when I fall short.
That includes taking care of the biggest priorities first, fitting in the rest when I can and letting go of the stuff that doesn’t really matter.
Margie finally has an appointment with the groomer today.
I’ll whittle away at the piles as needed.
Sometime this weekend, we’ll take down the snowflake and Christmas cards and decorate with Easter eggs and rabbits.
And perhaps this time I’ll actually order the spring photos and keep the image as a souvenir of my first year of teaching, the year that I continued to learn to let go — and to laugh more often.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

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