I can’t get my grades done on time. I yelled at my son this morning because he whined about having to eat cereal with no milk. I was 15 minutes late to work. I run 3 miles a few times a week on the treadmill, even though my body is craving 6 outside daily. There is literally no food in our refrigerator or cupboards. The laundry is pouring out of the chute, and I had to wash one load twice because it sat in the washer so long it began to smell musty. And speaking of smells…somewhere in my house is a piece of rotting citrus. I’m not sure where it is exactly, as my fruit bowl is empty, and I’m not sure why none of my other family members can’t smell this, but I guess eventually it will get bad enough that perhaps they will be the ones to unearth it. I have a suitcase that still hasn’t been emptied from Dallas and one that still isn’t emptied from New York sitting in my bedroom next to piles of unfolded, clean clothes. It’s 4:49 pm and I’m enjoying a few moments to myself with a cup of cocoa and a pastry at Panera Bread after a meeting…and I know I should be grading or cleaning or parenting…and in fact, I’m not even sure where all my children are at the moment, but I just needed to sit in peace for a while. But the peace is barely tangible since the guilt of having a few moments to myself is so loud in my conscience.
This morning, driving to school, I had to wipe away the tears that were freezing to my cheeks, blurring my vision. How do I get everything done? How do I parent and wife and teach and clean and lead all at the same time? Is it even possible to do it all well? Or do I have to succumb to doing everything half-ass? Is it in fact true that once you win teacher of the year, you spend the next year being a bad teacher?
2007 National Teacher of the Year, Mike Geisen, sat with me in Dallas one evening and talked about Balance. Be honest, he said, and people will understand. Be honest to your students, your children, and your husband—tell them you can’t do it all, and they’ll support you. They’ll get that. I try that, and they do understand, I think, but it’s not them who always impose these expectations—it’s parents, colleagues, administrators, and probably most of all, me. Ironically, the ones who understand the most are the ones who pay the most.
February is the month when days start to get longer in New Hampshire, and our ambitions start to emerge from the snowbanks of a long, dark January. But we need to remember that we are not superheroes—no matter what our movie directors or unions say—and we need to keep our ambitions in check. We are people who need to run and play outside. We need to watch TV with our kids on Friday nights and have dates with our partners. We need to sleep late on weekends and hike mountains. We must strive to find that balance by stepping back and examining the expectations others have put on us and prioritize. We must step back and examine our own expectations of ourselves and eliminate the unnecessary. We need to remember to feed our souls—and—to be honest, as Mike instructed—it’s okay to do that at Panera Bread on a Wednesday evening by yourself. It’s okay.