You are bigger than your fear.

Andrew Alaska Rock Climbing

This May marks one year since I left my full-time teaching job.  In the past couple of weeks, I have been reflecting on the year behind me, wondering if I made the right decision.

I don't write lesson plans or go to meetings anymore.  I don't spend my days conducting science experiments or facilitating art projects.  I'm not responsible for the direct care of a classroom full of little ones who are trying to navigate school for the first time.  Now, I cook lots of food, wash lots of dishes, and care for exactly two children (my own).  I go to class at night, and then I wake up the next morning to do it all over again.

At times, I doubt my value at my girls' preschool and even as their mom.  My current state of living the "in between" as a part-time employee, part-time student, and full-time mother feels insignificant.

"Do you think I'm different than the stressed-out mess that I was last year?  Did I do the right thing?"  I ask my husband.

"Yes!" he replies.  "Are those even questions?  Your decision to leave your job is the best thing you've done for our family."

***

April 2016.  I had a wonderful job and adored my students but was looking to make a change and leave special education.  I interviewed at a school across town - a wealthy school with involved parents where I wouldn't have to pay for my own copy paper.  (Yeah, you read that correctly.)  I would be teaching general education Pre-K but could use my special education background to help struggling students.  It was the perfect position, and I immediately accepted when it was offered to me.

Two weeks later, it still didn't feel right.  

Why couldn't I get excited about this opportunity?  Why was I plagued with a nagging sensation that even the ideal class, coworkers, parents, and school wouldn't be enough to make me happy?

***

Also April 2016.  My allergy-prone youngest woke up one morning with conjunctivitis in both eyes.  Her eyes were swollen shut so that she couldn't look at me.  She was scared.  I had already used all of my sick days during maternity leave in the fall, so my husband stayed home with her.  My sweet eight-month-old was clearly in good hands with him, but I bawled all the way to work.

That was the day that I knew I would never teach again.

Even on the really easy days, my job got my best and my family got my leftovers.

***

May 2016.  Feeling like a fool, I sat in my boss's office and declined the offer that many others would have been delighted to take.

She was so gracious.  "This decision doesn't have to make sense to anyone else if it makes sense to you," she said.

As I walked out of her office that day, I felt simultaneously very relieved and very afraid.  Relieved because I had followed my gut.  Afraid because I had no idea what was next.

It is highly unlike me to make decisions without calculating every detail of the aftermath.  What career will I pursue next?  How will we make ends meet without my salary, meager as it is as a teacher in Oklahoma?  Do I even understand how to be a good mom to my kids, and will I enjoy being with them for most of the day?  That last question was the most frightening to consider.  But it had to be asked.  For three years, my girls had spent a good chunk of their waking hours in daycare.  Will I even know how to parent them?

***

My three-year-old is terrified of everything from walking alone on the balance beam, to putting her head underwater, to the Chick-fil-A cow, to anything else in a costume or wearing face paint.  She is smart and persevering, but she lets fear dictate what she will and will not accomplish.

"You are bigger than your fear," I've started telling Piper in a feeble attempt to convince her of this truth while also convincing myself.

I wonder how often I have let myself become paralyzed by fear of the unknown.  It's so easy to spot this in other people.  "If he's abusing her in that relationship, she should just get out!" I think. But it's not that simple.  Sometimes, staying in a familiar but dysfunctional situation feels more comfortable than stepping out in faith to a bunch of question marks.

***

Last May was a turning point for me.  I chose to acknowledge the presence of fear without allowing it to determine the course of my life.  I spent that summer praying for direction and enjoying my children ... and mostly doing nothing.  It was weird and awesome.  I enrolled in classes for dental hygiene a week before they began.

Since then, fears of all sizes have continued to arise, but they don't define me anymore.  I even had a fear of starting this blog.  What if no one reads it?  Or, scarier still, what if people do? 

Obviously, I did it anyway.

***

Alaska

My husband and I went on a rock climbing date a couple of months ago.  He's good at that kind of thing, and I wanted to pursue one of his interests since our dates are usually the other way around.  I had no idea that I was truly afraid of heights until I reached almost to the top of that first wall, looked down, and started to cry and panic.  

"You are bigger than your fear," I remembered myself saying to Piper.  Instead of looking down at the ground, the place where I was comfortable, I looked up to the ceiling of the gym.  I made it to the top, and then I climbed another wall, and another one after that.  Eventually, I was unable to keep climbing, but what kept me from doing so was my embarrassing lack of upper body strength and not the panic that I had experienced so intensely at the beginning of our date.  Fear didn't win.

***

May 22, 2017.  I went back and visited the school where I taught.  I wanted to see my old friends and students, but I also needed to feel confirmed in my decision to leave.

I do miss my students.  Some of their parents text me on occasion, and I've been invited to birthday parties and awards ceremonies over the years.  In the moments when I question whether or not my six years in the classroom mattered to anyone, I remember these things and know that they did.

I also know, with every fiber of my being, that I did make the right choice at this time last year.

"Have you had a good year?" people have been asking.

"Yeah," I smile.  It has been pretty perfect.