Changing Priorities

The world had slowly shifted for me, without me even really noticing it, that fall.

I was substitute teaching nearly every day, my phone often ringing at five am to give me my placement for the day.  I taught in four different school districts on the east side of town, all carefully chosen by me because I felt that they would be the best combination of steady work and employment possibilities.  I had the curious circumstance of teaching in both school districts where I had attended school, and often found myself eating lunch in the teachers’ lounge with people who less than ten years prior, had been my teachers.

The interesting thing, I started realizing, was that because I was substitute teaching, I had the opportunity to be far more present for my mother as she recovered than I would have if I was starting my first year teaching in a regular classroom.  There would have been evening meetings, long hours setting up lesson plans for the first time, and I would have never wanted to call in sick to take my mother to a doctor or stay at home because she just wasn’t feeling well that day.

But because I didn’t get that job that I thought I always wanted, I had much more freedom.  I substituted as much as I could, but blocked off days or didn’t answer the phone when my mother needed me.  When I left a building at 3 or 3:30 or 4, I was done for the day.  There were no lessons to prepare in the evenings or papers to check.  When I left, I was done with work and able to focus on the situation at home entirely.  I had no divided focus.  When I was at work, I was able to give everything to the students I worked with that day.  But when I left, I was able to be completely present with my mother and my son.

I wanted to believe that my mother was on her way back.  All of the signs pointed in that direction; the doctors, the return to a routine, the daily rhythm of our lives together as mother and daughter sharing responsibilities around the house and for my son.

But I couldn’t help but notice that my mother was tired all of the time.  Of course it was easy to explain away, that my mother had been pumping poison into her veins and burning her flesh voluntarily for months, and all of that coming after a major surgery in which her body was essentially cracked in two.  She would need a long time to return to her former vitality.  Still, even a month after stopping her treatments, it still seemed like my mother just wasn’t bouncing back.

My mother was also clearly working with a greatly reduced lung capacity.  While the state had granted her a handicapped tag for her car, even the short walks from her handicapped spots to her office were punctuated by several breaks during which she stopped to catch her breath.  Her briefcase, always heavy with too many legal papers carted back and forth from home to her office, was so heavy for her now that she stopped carrying it altogether.

My mother clearly still needed a lot of care and support in order to regain her health.  I stopped entirely my former practice of going out in the evenings after Zachary went to sleep to see my friends.  There was simply no way my mother could be expected to care for my solid three year old boy if something occurred while I was out.   Oddly, I didn’t mourn the loss of my last bit of age appropriate freedom.  Instead, I could clearly see that my efforts were needed and important at home.

The shift of priorities happened slowly, but surely, as I watched my mother struggle back.  I started feeling regret that I had spent so much time in the spring and early summer worried about my future with a boy instead of focusing on my mother.   I vowed to use the minutes I had in my day less selfishly and more generously.

Looking back on those fall days, I realized that everything does happen for a reason.  There were a great many turns in my path that might have taken me away from being at this place at this moment in time, with the ability to give my mother what she needed.  Turns that I regretted, that I cried over, that I did not understand and railed at God for forcing upon me at the time.  But it was during those cool fall months that I started to think that perhaps a plan had been in place all along to bring me back home.

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