As I’ve noted before, tragedy struck my family when I was seven years old. I have quite a few memories from that time, and many in the months thereafter. One thing I remember vividly is the role my elementary school teachers played in making sure I didn’t lose myself in a heartbreak that no child should ever have to experience.
For them, I am forever grateful.
And it was during that year, the year that I learned how to be a little girl without a dad, that I decided and declared to all who would listen that I wanted to be a third grade teacher.
That dream was realized when I moved into my own third grade classroom and began teaching in 2005. It was exactly where I was supposed to be. I wanted to and dreamed of impacting young lives the way mine had been impacted by my teachers.
It was an exhausting job, often thankless, with a never-ending to-do list. But I loved every minute of it.
After five years of teaching third grade, I had a pull, a calling, to do something different. I still wanted to work in education, but I wanted to make a bigger difference. I wanted to instill my positive attitude and “you can do it” stick-to-itiveness on a bigger audience. A different job – Curriculum Coordinator – opened up at the school where I work. The principal recruited me, and the timing felt right. I packed up my classroom and moved into an office, ready to start a new chapter of my career.
I’ve now been the Curriculum Coordinator for two years. It’s an interesting job in which I’m over all curriculum initiatives, I work with students who need help, teachers who are struggling, and I’m in charge of all state testing.
Like most people, there are parts of my job I adore, and parts I don’t love. Overall, I’ve always felt lucky to get up everyday to go to work to do a job I enjoy, impacting lives and making a difference.
And then Cameron was born.
Obviously, my life was flipped upside down and my priorities changed, especially in terms of how I viewed my job.
As I posted previously, it’s no secret that it breaks my heart each morning to leave my little girl and go to work. Usually, though, if I immerse myself in helping teachers and students, the days go by quickly and I’m picking her up before I know it.
And every now and then, something happens to remind me that there’s a reason why I do what I do.
Most recently, it happened with one of my most favorite students of all time.
She was the type of student who wore mismatched socks on purpose, had her own unique opinions, and was fiercely intelligent.
She was in fifth grade this past year. On fifth grade graduation day, she gave a speech in front of all of the fifth graders and their families. I sat on stage with the rest of the administrators, in awe of this young lady and how much she’d grown up since she’d sat in my classroom. In the middle of her speech, she mentioned her third grade teacher.
Wait – that was me!
She mentioned a few fun things we did in class, then made a comment I will remember for the rest of my life. “And it was Mrs. Peele who made me believe in myself for being just who I am.”
As a mama who was literally counting down the hours until my summer ‘o Cameron started, this gave me pause.
I had done that for this amazing little girl? Me?! It was all I needed to hear to remind myself that I am more than a mom. I am an educator, someone students depend on when they’re having a bad day, or when they don’t feel loved within the walls of their own homes.
As if that wasn’t enough, this little girl came by my office about an hour later. “I have something for you!” She was beaming. She handed me a homemade card, and inside was a handmade friendship bracelet. I choked back tears as I hugged her and wished her luck in middle school, making her promise me that she’d remember me always and come back to visit. As soon as she left my office, I put the bracelet on, tying it in a double knot to make sure it stayed put.
I’ve been wearing it ever since.
This summer, it’s been a reminder to me that I am more than Cameron’s mom. I can make a difference in other children’s lives. I can help other little girls believe in themselves, be proud of who they are, quirks and all.
Every time I look at my wrist and see the bracelet – which is now quite faded and worn – I am reminded that as hard as it’ll be to go back to work tomorrow morning, I am not just driving away from Cameron Kate… I am driving toward the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of lots of children, children who may just need me more than my own daughter right now.
It’s the only rationale I can find to muster up the energy to get in my car, and drive away.