It’s Not Easy Being . . .

IMG_8485Photo credit to one of my favorite teacher websites, We Are Teachers

Summer is winding down and it’s almost time to start the transformation back into School Year Wife. I think my husband dreads the transition even more than I do. I fear that during the summer I’m the woman he married 30 years ago but 10 months out of the year I’m some other woman. Years ago my husband started calling me his “favorite wife” which left me wondering How many wives does he have? When I would inquire about this his answer would be, “Of all the wives I know, you’re my favorite.” That didn’t really clear things up for me nor was it comforting. He’s married to two women and they’re both me, School Year Wife and Summer Wife. It’s not easy being . . .married to a teacher.

We teachers ask a lot of our spouses. We are the carefree fun-loving spouse they married for 9 weeks during the summer and then mid-August rolls around and everything changes. Suddenly we are consumed with setting up our classrooms, cutting lamination and labeling everything in sight using handwriting our spouse doesn’t even recognize. We live and breathe the 24 names on our class list and forget to grocery shop, do laundry, cook dinner, feed the dog . . . Our spouses pick up a lot of slack throughout the school year but the start of the school year is especially difficult for them. We call on them to build things, cut things, lug things, lift things and move things.  There’s a lot of lugging, lifting and moving at the beginning of the year and we’re often asking them to do this after a full day of work at their own job or on the weekend. It’s not easy being . . .married to a teacher.

For years I have said it takes a special guy to be married to a teacher. A quick internet search reveals the truth in this statement.

While several of these are humorous reads there were some sad titles in my search as well: Wife’s Job Sucks! How can I convince her to change careers? and My wife’s career as an elementary teacher is tearing our lives apart. I don’t want to be the subject of one of these articles. It’s not easy being . . .married to a teacher.

Teacher husbands learn to take a backseat to their wife’s teaching responsibilities. In the early years of my marriage and career we committed to one night a week when I didn’t bring home school work and we didn’t let anything interrupt that time.  Of course this was before laptops, cell phones, email and Facebook. I attributed the constant work to my inexperience but on the eve of my 20th year teaching I bring even more work home than I did as a new teacher. I’ve often wondered if I just suck at teaching and that’s why it’s so much work for me. A recent fortune cookie from a lunch with a teacher friend put it in perspective for me.

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I think that pretty much sums it up for those of us who make the transformation from the person we are in the summer to the person we are during the school year. We are wired to help a child in need. Our job is not just a career, it’s a calling and a mission. Those who are married to us get this and they wouldn’t dream of doing anything but support us in our calling. So, thank you to my favorite husband, I know it’s not easy being . . .married to a teacher.

Slice of Life

 

Why Aren’t We Bilingual?

Our journey through Italy is winding down. We fly back to the U.S. tomorrow. Throughout our trip I have been humbled by my lack of being bilingual despite taking French for three years starting in 4th grade and Spanish from 7th -11th grade. My Spanish has helped a bit in Italy and I’ve picked up a few words and phrases as we’ve traveled but I’ve been wishing I could speak Italian fluently. 

As we’ve traveled I’ve been pondering how Italians and people from many other countries acquire a second language. I’m fascinated by the process of acquiring language which is probably why I love teaching primary aged children. As we’ve traveled it seems no matter what a person’s native language is they can also speak English. I’ve seen people from all over the world on this trip and the majority of them can speak my language but I can’t begin to understand their native tongue.

Today I finally had the opportunity to ask some delightful young men from India about how they learned English. We conversed for a while and learned that this group of 5 second year college students were in Italy to attend a college formula one like car competition with 25 other students. As our conversation died down I watched them converse with each other as they seamlessly went from their native language to English mid sentence. I found this fascinating and was compelled to ask them how old they were when they started to learn English. 

Indian children start learning English at age 4. As one of the young men told me they learn their “mother tongue” at home and English at school. In the group of five we were talking to three of them spoke the same language and the other two spoke a different language because they were from a different state. English was the common language for the group. 

The key to being bilingual is starting young but in the U.S. we don’t start foreign language early enough. My school district is  looking to add foreign language into the elementary school and I have to admit I’ve been concerned about how this would impact my teaching schedule. This trip has shown me how important it is to start young to learn a second language and it’s reminded me that it’s not about my teaching schedule, it’s about the children I teach. 

Anniversary Surprise

Today marks 30 years of being married to my best friend and it started with the alarm going off at 4:45 to be ready to leave our hotel in Assisi for an adventure. Over the years my sweet husband has planned many surprises for me and by no fault of his own or mine I manage to find out about them. He pulled it off today. 

As we drove through the Umbria country side I tried to figure out what he had planned. A tour of a winery or an olive grove? That didn’t make sense at 5:30 a.m. Why would we need to leave so early? I thought maybe we would be meeting a tour guide to learn about the Umbrian countryside but I couldn’t figure out why we would be doing that so early either. My last thought was a cooking class but learning to cook an Italian breakfast didn’t make sense either because cold meat, cheese and fruit doesn’t really take much skill. 

As we stood outside a winery at 6:00 a.m. I was still trying to figure it out and I was curious about the other people who kept arriving. We seemed to be the only members of the group from the U.S. Two vans pulled up and the driver started speaking very quickly in Italian. Finally, a woman who spoke English  showed up. I assumed we would be getting into the vans with the others and touring the countryside. She took out a clipboard and said we needed to fill out the paper before going up in the balloon. 

Riding in a hot air ballon wasn’t even on my radar and it’s a good thing I didn’t know about it beforehand or I would have been anxious. I was a little apprehensive but it was an awesome experience. The views of vineyards, olive groves and fields of sunflowers were beautiful from 3,000 feet. We traveled in the balloon for about 20km with blue skies, sunshine and a slight breeze. The landscape was amazing, even the miles of forest the wind kept pushing us towards. Our skillful pilot Peter made sure we found a harvested wheat field for our landing. The field happened to be next to a bright sunflower field. I can’t think of a better way to start year 31 with my best friend. 

Summer Wife Tours Italy – Part 1

Our tour of Italy began when we arrived in Naples at noon on Wednesday. Naples is known for being dangerous for tourists so we planned for a quick exit. Just outside the airport we found the bus to Sorrento. I’m told the drive down the coast from Naples is beautiful. I wouldn’t know because I spent the trip catching up on the sleep I didn’t get on the plane. 

Our first three days were spent in the resort town of Sorrento. Sorrento is a fishing village on the Bay of Naples surrounded by cliffs. It’s a vacation spot for Italians and Europeans. We did meet a few Americans but it was humbling to be in the minority because we are not bilingual. So far we’ve found most Italians are bilingual and they appreciate our attempts at simple pleasantries such as buon giorno, grazie and prego.

We made Sorrento our first stop to relax and recover from jet leg. I logged 16 miles walking during our time there and most of that was trudging up and down hills and stairs. The 4 hour car ride to Orivito is a welcome respite today. 

Our hotel was built on the side of a cliff and while the guidebook described it as Spartan it sufficed and the view more than made up for the lack of luxury.

Sorrento and the. surrounding area is known for producing lemons and lemon products. Items decorated with lemons are ubiquitous. If you want a lemon theme in your classroom or house go to Sorrento. You would think lemonade would be readily available but oddly it’s not. Instead you can buy Limoncello every where. Limoncello is a drink made with lemons, sugar and grain alcohol and the sample I had tasted nothing like lemons. No more Limoncello for me!

Our stay in Sorrento also included a trip to Pompeii and the ruins from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.  The sophistication of the buildings and streets is impressive. It was very hot and crowded and a visit during a cooler time of year is recommended. 

Summer Wife needs to preserve memories from our trip to retrieve when the stress and busyness returns. As I lie awake thinking about the email I received earlier in the day questioning a decision I made or worrying about how to help Joey grasp regrouping when he’s still counting to 10 on his fingers, I’ll find a memory to focus on to help me relax and drift off to sleep. The snapshot of Sorrento I’ll retrieve will be the view from our cliff side hotel. 

Summer Wife

Several years ago, as the end of the school year was approaching, my husband started a countdown for the arrival of Summer Wife. If you are a friend, family member or spouse of a teacher this needs no explanation. I’m told that when I walk through the door on the day I finish packing up and cleaning my classroom a new person walks in the door and takes up residence in our house for about 9 weeks. If you do the math you’ll notice that is just over 2 months not 3. The responsibility I feel for the 20-24 children in my care for 10 months out of the year consumes me and when it comes to an end, Summer Wife takes over. I know this phenomena is not unique to me as I wanted to call this blog Summer Wife but it was already taken by another hard working teacher.

Summer Wife is who I truly am and I desire to keep her around throughout the school year. I have about 5 weeks to figure out how to do that before I return to work at the end of August. In the past, the mention of Summer Wife has always been accompanied by good humor but this summer I started to feel a little sad (or maybe it’s guilt, teachers are really good at guilt) about my obvious change in personality during the summer. I’ve been asking myself How can I prevent this?, What do I need to do differently during the school year? What makes Summer Wife, Summer Wife? I think I need to start with this last question.

This question was a lot easier to answer before I was an Empty Nester. Things 1 & 2 picked up on their dad’s humor and affectionately referred to me as Summer Mom, though they will tell you there is a downside to being a teacher’s kid in the summer. Daily reading and math fact practice preceded any screen time in our house. Thankfully, I was raising kids before 8 year olds had cell phones and tablets so screen time meant the one television or the desktop computer in full view of everyone. I think Things 1 & 2 are appreciative of this now, though it does still bring an audible groan from both of them when it’s mentioned. Before the Empty Nest I spent a lot of time driving to the golf course, theater practice and swimming lessons but there were also days spent at the pool for fun or at a local park with other moms and friends from church and of course the library. I did what most teacher/moms do during the summer, focus on family.

So now that the kids are gone What makes Summer Wife, Summer Wife? Since the big move I spend the summer as the pool girl and gardener. I enjoy both tasks and it brings me great joy to cook from my garden and gaze at the crystal blue water sparkling in the pool. I also knit and have three hour lunches with friends who are also navigating this Empty Nest thing. I’m more rested because I can sleep until 7:00, I get more exercise and I’m much more carefree. 

So how do I keep Summer Wife around come mid-August when I go back to work early because it’s the only way my classroom will be ready? How do I prioritize my mental and physical well-being and my family over my teacher responsibilities? I don’t have an answer yet but I’m looking. Let me know if you have any suggestions for keeping Summer Wife, Summer Mom, Summer Friend, or Summer Sister around once the school year starts. 

The Nest is Empty

Blog1Some say the empty nest stage of life starts when your youngest heads off to college. For me, it started the day my youngest graduated from college. It took me by surprise as I thought I was already an “Empty Nester” when Thing 2 left and headed to Amish country to experience the joys of college life. We had a great weekend celebrating with Thing 1, Thing 2 and the grandparents but as Thing 1 packed up his car and headed back to his post-college life in another state, it hit me that we had no boomerang children and we were officially EMPTY NESTERS.

During the college years Thing 1 and Thing 2 still came home during breaks and they both lived with us for the first two summers after college. Thing 2 even endured a move from his childhood home to our new nest just two months after Thing 1 graduated from college. He took it in stride and settled in with us for a few short weeks before heading back to his life at school. We attempted to unpack and began to plan for our retirement years in the house we hope will someday be filled with the buzz of little people on holidays and summer vacations.

Almost two years later we are still working on the unpacking and decorating because a month after moving I began an 18 month stint of the most stressful time of my professional life as an elementary teacher. As I have just completed year 19 and I’m looking ahead to year 20, (I took several years off to raise Thing 1 and Thing 2 which is one of the best decisions I have ever made:) I am striving to keep my health, family and teaching life in balance. I’ve thought about blogging for a while, on a variety of topics, though I’m not sure anyone will care about what I have to say.  My goal with this blog is to promote self-care for overworked teachers no matter their stage of life and to hold myself accountable to taking care of myself and my family first (BTW you’re still a parent in the Empty Nest stage of life). It’s a struggle to maintain balance, though it’s much easier during the summer when my wonderful husband refers to me as “Summer Wife”. Stay tuned to learn about her!