Saturday, November 6, 2010

On Doing Without

I knew this move to the UK would involve giving up a few material possessions which I've come to hearitly enjoy: the car, the drying machine, the huge collection of books, the nice apartment 40 minutes west of Boston. What I didn't expect was to have to work at doing without something else.


For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a teacher. In high school, when we had to fill out the endless numbers of "What profession do you hope to join...?" forms for colleges, our guidance department, teachers, or scholarships, I always felt lucky to have an immediate response: High school English teacher and basketball coach.

And I lived that dream for a while. (Well, I coached girls' Lacrosse and was the newspaper Advisor for a bit while I taught...close enough, right?)

But after we had our son, that dream wasn't what my heart thirsted for anymore. Don't get me wrong, I still love teaching, and some days as a stay-at-home-dad I do wake up and think, If I could just get back into that classroom with my 7th graders and talk about Deborah Ellis's The Breadwinner, or do a poetry project with them, or just be silly as we learn... 

But what I realized after my latest post as a 7th grade teacher in Hudson was that I just wanted more time with my son. I wanted to be more a part of his life, more a teacher to him.

And after a month in York, no part of me regrets the change.

What I have been realizing, however, is that being a teacher involves a lot of encouragement and praise. I loved the students I have taught, and I enjoy keeping in touch with many of them over e-mail. I tried to care for them the way I would want to care for my own son if he was in the 7th grade. And my students cared for me, too. They would make these splendid cards, tell me nice things, and generally give me a feel-good boost.

So while the move to England has involved dealing with some withdrawal from our material do-withouts, it has also involved learning to do without the same kinds of praise. Indeed, after I make Tyler a pretty darn good grilled cheese sandwich, or successfully quell the rising tide of a tantrum (I'm batting maybe .375 on that front...okay, maybe .275), he doesn't write me a thank-you note or tell me that I have inspired him to go out and change the world.

Indeed, I relish and thank God for Tyler's reckless hugs, his wild leaps into my arms or catapults onto my stomach-area-ish, but largely being a stay-at-home parent is about learning how to work without the praise and recognition that a teacher receives.

Having done both, I realize now that I stand in the midst of a great opportunity. It's a chance to throw off my ego, my pride, my insecurities which often sought others to confirm that I am doing something well. Instead, it's a chance to begin to hear the quiet voice of God, whispering those encouragments on a hard morning when Tyler wakes up at 5am with a massive poop; it's the soft encouragment of God telling me to continue trying to get Tyler to nap well, even as the screams erupt from the room over; and it's the heart of God encouraging my own heart as I am reminded that nothing worth doing in this life can be done with the puspose of only doing it to please others.

There is a higher level to love than that.

I have a heck of a lot to learn about what it means to live a life of doing without. I am still going through the ups and downs of realizing that anytime Tyler and I want to go somewhere, we've got to walk.

And I certainly have a heck of a lot to learn about living without pats on the back. As a teacher, I learned to enjoy and thrive on those pats. As a stay-at-home-dad, I am learning to work hard for the sake of love alone--love for my wife, love for my son, and love for the characters I craft through fiction.

Doing without praise is hard for me--I'll confess. But it's also rewarding in a new kind of way. After all, the praise and encouragment of others always ends, and then we're left standing there, the same as before. Perhaps the most concise and poignant way to state the process I am learning to love is a line from a favorite movie of mine, Cool Runnings.

John Candy, who plays the coach of an olympic Jamaican Bobsled team, imparts to one of his athletes the following truth: "If you're not enough without the gold medal, you'll never be enough with it."

It reminds me that praise never creates anything--and it can never substitute for what matters most: our hearts. And so doing without is really about learning to be comfortable in our own skins, all things (literally) aside.