As we wind up one school year, and move into the next, I have once again hit the same January realisation that I always do. That the beautiful little souls that I spent more time with in 2018 than my own children, are moving on. In a few weeks they will begin Year 2, and Mrs Ismay and Year 1 will be a distant memory. They will be busy learning the next section of the curriculum, making new friends, developing relationships with new teachers and so on and so forth, until in the blink of an eye they will be graduating Year Six, and some, I will never see again. It’s hard, as a teacher, to say goodbye to your kids every year. Kids that you are so invested in, kids that you care for, kids that you love.
And then will come the time, as has happened just this week, when as past students, they will stop you in the street. They will be so tall that you barely recognise them. The boys will be men and the girls will be confident, strong young women, and they will take you straight back to the year that they spent with you. They will share all of the things that they remember, all of the funny things that you used to say and do, the songs you used to sing and the dances you used to dance. They will remember how you spent your whole lunch break with them because they couldn’t find their friends. They will remember how you gave them a hug, and wiped their tears when their friends were being mean. They will remember how you spent your prep time in the mornings meeting their car at the drop off zone because they were too nervous to try and do it alone.
You may or may not be a teacher. You may or may not have children. But you did go to school. And so you know. You get what it is that makes teachers so important in our children’s lives. School teachers, soccer coaches, dance teachers, swimming teachers.
The good ones are all the same.
What’s in a teacher?
They care, they are invested and they see your child. No matter how quiet, loud, boisterous or calm. No matter whether they excel in whatever it is….school, dance, soccer…..or whether they need that extra support, encouragement or a different approach. A good teacher sees your child.
As a working mother, one of my favourite sayings has always been, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’
And man, do we have a village!
My parents that help us out with drop offs and pick ups, with babysitting and with just giving us a break.
My friends, who always seem to sense when one of us in near breaking point and step in to lend a hand (or pass the wine!).
My neighbours, the parents of my kids’ friends, my siblings….They have all become part of this crazy parenting village.
But at this time of year, with the same realisation that I have every year, I have also realised that the teachers in our life have also become a very strong part of that village.
It was my son’s classroom teacher last year, who always seemed to know what to say and do to calm my, and his, anxiety. He learnt so much last year, and not just from the curriculum.
It was my daughter’s dance teachers, who were such a strong presence throughout one of the hardest years of her life. Major spinal surgery (that’s a blog for another day!) on a 15 year old ballerina is life changing, and the amazing, strong, determined young woman that has emerged on the other side is not just the result of the support that she received from her family. It also came from the teachers in her life that were invested in her, not only as a dancer, but her as a 15 year old girl who needed their love, support and strength.
I like to feel that I have a big impact on the amazing young people that my children are becoming. I like to think that my husband and I are doing a kick arse job at raising these kids. But the truth is, it’s not just us. The teachers in their lives need to be given their credit in this too.
It’s so important to surround our children with amazing people. People who mentor them, who they look up to. People who are not their parents but love them and care for them like they are.
People like teachers.
I love Michelle Obama. I love everything about her. Her class, her style, her confidence, her strength…..and I have spent the majority of these school holidays reading her autobiography, ‘Becoming’. I adore these holidays. The family, the massive Christmas lunches, the beach. But most of all, I love the available hours while the kids are watching Netflix or swimming, to lay on the lounge and read. I always put aside one or two books to devour. And this year, it’s been a fabulous and intriguing insight into the life of this ridiculously inspiring woman.
I have devoured every page, and now feel like we are best friends. I know her parents, her children, her husband and her friends. I cried when her father passed away, I laughed when she stumbled awkwardly through her high school years, and I smiled at the intimate and heartwarming family moments that she shared.
But then tonight, I had a moment. A moment where I looked at my husband and, not for the first time, let loose with my slightly (but sometimes not so slightly) feminist frustrations and questioning.
You see, at so many points in this amazing book, Mrs Obama refers to the ‘working mother’. Whether it’s her, or her friends, or her mentors, she talks fairly consistently about the role of a working mother. She refers to her friends and their struggles with the balance between motherhood and career, or the fact that her mentors had to work so hard to build or sustain their careers, all the while trying to raise their children, free of guilt and judgment.
I am now probably four fifths of the way through this great read, and all of a sudden it hit me. And I turned to my poor husband (who cops my equality rants a bit) and asked,
“Why doesn’t anyone ever refer to the father as a ‘working dad?”
This had never occurred to me before! And in reading this phenomenal life story, it suddenly hit me. This woman was married to a man who, when both of his children were school aged, became possibly the busiest man on the planet, heaped with the biggest responsibility of arguably any other human on Earth, and yet, not once is he referred to as a ‘working father.’ He has the same two girls, the same responsibilities as a parent, and yet, even with the extremely heavy workload that he took on, the hours that he would have been doing, not once in the entire book, or anywhere in the media has he ever been referred to as a ‘working father.’
I get it.
I get that initially, it has to be the mother. I have two of my own. I grew them, I birthed them, I fed them and I love them more than anything in this world. But with both, I made the choice to return to work (or uni with my eldest!), when I felt that both of us were ready. I was never one to be able to handle being at home full time. I wish I was, and I am jealous of those that could, but it wasn’t for me. And when I did, whether it was returning to uni to complete my degree, or to teaching after the birth my second bub, the main discussion that people, especially women raised with me, was the balance between career and being a working mum. But not once, NOT ONCE, did anyone ever refer to my husband as a working dad. Not once did they ask how he was managing the balance. That was on me. It was my responsibility to balance career and children. Not once did that responsibility ever fall on my husband. Just as it didn’t for Barack. My husband’s response to this was to state how alike he is to Barack Obama…..(eye roll*), but he too agreed that it had never really even been an option. That he would have loved some time at home with the kids when they were little, but being the dad, just felt like this wasn't the way things were done.
I can’t help but imagine how different our society would be if the mentality towards this was slightly altered. What if, after the growing and the birthing and the feeding was done, if the mum felt that both she and toddler were ready, what if it was widely accepted that the father had the option, if it was even encouraged, to go part time to allow the mother to continue to build her own career.
It was just a turn of phrase. A label that we hear every day. But in this moment, it was also another lightbulb moment, of why things are just that little bit harder when you’re the woman. There has been a few of those lately, and frankly, it’s starting to irk me.
Sometimes we need to just think further outside the square of what we can do for women to close the gap. Sometimes it’s about what we can do for those around her.