impact on a child's heart / by Carey

I was a proctor for fourth grade standardized testing this morning.  Hesitant, I entered the classroom of a teacher I'd never met, full of children I didn't know.  This being my first time, I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do or what was expected of me.  While I waited for everything to begin, I merely observed as twenty ten-year-olds energetically prepared to start their TCAP day.

One particular little girl caught my attention.  As I'd crossed the threshold, someone said "Lily's crying because she's scared for the TCAPs".  Her beautiful golden complexion was blotchy and red from her emotion.  Her eyes were welled with tears.  Her posture communicated defeat and insecurity.  She was nervously walking all around the classroom.  The urge to ask her if she needed a hug bubbled up inside of me.  But I squelched it.  New teacher.  New classroom.  Older kids.  Kids I don't know.  "You can't do that", the discouraging voice whispered in my head.  I listened.  (*I changed Lily's name, for anonymity)

As I continued to watch, I noticed Lily wasn't the only one who was crying.  Several were trying to hold back anxious tears.  I remember being nervous about tests, but I don't remember ever crying over it.  Nor any of my classmates crying.  Perhaps time has eroded the memories.

Lily continued to pass by me, agonized tears slowly trailing down her round cheeks.  Finally, I couldn't suppress the nurturing urge any longer.  I gently touched her shoulder with one hand and I lowered my face to be even with hers - at ten she probably has less than a foot to grow before she surpasses my height, but I got down to her level anyway.  I looked into her eyes and I asked her "Do you need a hug?"

You should know: I am not a hugger.  I've never been a very touchy person.  Certainly not a public touchy person.  I don't offer hugs to friends.  It just isn't "me".  It's not that I don't care, for I do.  Deeply.  I just don't initiate hugging.  But something, I believe the Holy Spirit, compelled me urgently to overcome it and ask her.  So I did.

Her big brown eyes bored back into mine.  They were clear yet glossy with fresh tear drops of emotion.  She hesitated, as if to evaluate.  Was I safe?  Was it safe, to accept, in front of her classmates?  Then she nodded.

I wrapped my arms around her.  I asked her if she was scared or sad.  The parents were supposed to write their child a letter of encouragement before the test.  I love the idea, but truly, the first thing I thought of when I heard about this was "what about the students whose parents won't do this?  How will that make them feel?  How will that affect their mindset before this important test?"  I was afraid she was upset because of that.  She wasn't.  She was scared of not doing well on her test.  I continued to hug her and whispered words of encouragement to her.  Then it was time to begin.

The students got a break after the first half of the test.  Lily came up to me and said, "I want you to encourage me some more."

You better believe I did.  I talked with her about how she made it through the first part.  I talked with her about perspective.  I talked with her about how she needn't expect perfection out of her self, but to try as hard as she could.  I talked with her about how to calm herself if she started to feel worked up.  And I told her that I KNEW she was going to do well.

When the second part was over, Lily returned to me once more.  I asked how the second part went, but I don't remember how she answered.  I said something to her about how I knew she'd done well, and she stopped me.  She asked "But how do you KNOW I did well?"  Again I looked her in the eyes and told her I knew, that I could tell by looking and talking to her.  She asked if I would be there tomorrow.  I shook my head.  She sighed and said, "I wish you would be here to encourage me."  I encouraged her a little more then, and told her I'd hopefully see her on Friday, when I will be coming back.

For me, there were three of them.  I remember each of them.  Three parents of my classmates that were there.  The one I remember most vividly was actually the mom of students in the grades above and below me. Mrs. Hornsby.  But she was always there.  Always at the school.  Always doing something, always helping somewhere.  She knew our names.  And she was so nice.  She oozed love and it was so obvious she loved her children.  I remember aching over my wish that she were my mom.

Mrs. Mathis was another.  I can't pull her image back into my brain so easily, because I never actually had a class with her daughter.  But all through the elementary school years, she was always there.  Helping.  Encouraging.  Loving.

Mrs. Bell was the third.  Her son was in my class in fourth grade.  I can still see so much of that classroom in my memory.  That was a monumental year for me.  Mrs. Bell was so cheerful and happy.  I wished I were part of their family, too.

These three women had an impact on my young heart.  I don't know when I decided it, but somewhere along the way, I knew that that was what I wanted to be when I had children.  The involved mom.  The one who always helped at school.  The worker bee who could love, love, love.  I wanted to be a loving voice and loving touch to all those children who maybe didn't have that at home at the end of the day.

During the testing this morning, while all was quiet and still, I read a blog post by a photographer friend about what we envisioned our grown up life to be about, and reconciling those expectations with reality.  I found the idea quite fascinating to consider, for myself.  I didn't grow up with a typical, traditional, ordinary parent and family life.  That just isn't my background.  My mother did not work when we were younger, though, so I was never under the aspiration of becoming a career woman.  Even when she had to get a job later on, it wasn't what I would define as a career.  I don't know that I really even understood what a career woman was until I was already in college.  But I would not say my mother was a 'housewife', either; at least not by my own definition of what that entails today.  I don't believe I ever had the thoughts that I wanted to be a housewife.  I was the feminine product of the 80s and 90s.  I was very intelligent: top of the class.  I was groomed and primed to be Success.  To not go into a career field was never considered.  That would be ludicrous.  Career:  that was my destiny.  I was a girl, but I was equal.  I'd be Something.  Someone.  Someday.

I really cannot remember when I came to the conclusion that I wouldn't be a career woman.  I know that Shawn and I discussed, before marriage, what it would be like when we had children, and we both knew that we wanted me to stay home and raise them.  We were wholly on the same page.  I knew my efforts in college to earn the degree, that would grant me a high paying career, were for a predestined short period time when I would work.  Then we would have children and it would all be for naught.  I won't lie.  I struggled with this some.  All that effort.... goodness, the effort I put into school... for nothing (it seemed at the time).  I earned a lot of scholarships to pay for college - and with my foreknowledge that I wouldn't work forever, it felt deceptive and immoral to take a scholarship (and later a job from a corporation) from someone else who would other wise work and needed that money just as much as I did.  But I felt very strongly that "I" wanted to be the one who raised my children.  This was the path that intelligent individuals took to get from here to there.

I will be 34 soon.  Thirty four.  The days of these decisions feels so long ago.  I remember that grown ups watched a television show called "Thirty Something" when I was little, and that age felt ancient to me.  Now I am almost halfway through my thirties.  My young childhood could never have imagined that this would be my life.  My adolescence would never have believed I'd turned away from a career.  That this world of stay at home mommy hood, and housewifery, would be my own.

No, my life is nothing like I imagined.  I'm not Something, Someone, Someday - at least not to anyone but my family.  It isn't glamorous.  I am so grateful for the ability to stay home and be with my kids, as I have chosen.  That doesn't mean it's easy, though.  It is hard work, and monotonous, and feels so futile so often.  I know it isn't, but it feels it.  Choosing this as my career has given me many wonderful rewards and benefits, but it has come with personal sacrifice - not only financial.  What I didn't expect was to battle with feelings of the absence of career.  I don't have definable achievements.  I don't have performance reviews.  I don't complete projects.  I don't receive bonuses for extra good work.  I don't have a team of coworkers.  There isn't camaraderie.  I am an expert at nothing.  More often than not I feel a constant failure, that I'm doing nothing I'm involved in well.  Perhaps this is the curse of the educated housewife.  I do approach Motherhood and Caring for my Family and Home as my career.  But that just isn't the same as an outside of the home career.

(I got so close to finishing this piece with focus, and then the fighting and bickering broke out, the endless questions, the banging on the piano.  Focus and ability to think destroyed.  I fear the rest of this will not make sense, nor the connections and parallels be made.  Perhaps I can edit later)

Today as I drove home, however, I was overcome with the emotion of my opportunity to impact the children in the school I get to help.  I always wanted to be The Mom Who Was There.  My foot is in the door.  My career is my family.  But with that, I have the opportunity to give a smile and a hug and a word of encouragement to these little souls.  You never know what their home is like.  Perhaps I will be a Mrs. Hornsby to these children.