Sometimes It’s Not About Priorities: What I Learned When I Went Back to Work


At the end of the fall, one of the high schools called me. They had lost one of their AP physics teachers with less than 2 weeks until midterm exams. They asked if I would teach until Winter Break. Since I used to teach AP physics and continue to tutor students one-on-one, I have an in-depth knowledge of the curriculum scope and sequence as well as the typical stumbling blocks for students and the best tips and tricks.

For me, it was a no brainer. There wasn’t anyone else that could slide in on this short notice. I love teaching physics and I’m good at what I do.

Of course, I was going to go help. 

I just had to figure out how to make the pieces work. My husband thought I was crazy for taking this on so suddenly but supported my desire to help

I got the call on Thursday, was fingerprinted on Friday, and started the following week. After 6 years of staying home full-time, I was (temporarily) back to work full-time.

Y’all the wheels about fell off the bus at our house.

In the first week, I had to cancel chaperoning my son’s field trip, I forgot my allergy child’s preschool snack, I neglected to return important forms, I lost track of the days and forgot my son’s first basketball practice, I had to throw out a failed dinner, and I full-on broke down when I was late taking the kids somewhere and got stuck in traffic.

And that’s just the mom stuff…

…not even considering my other responsibilities and my marriage, all of which came to a screeching halt.

It probably would have been easier if we hadn’t been thrown into a sudden start and had time to intentionally adapt our routines. Or if it had been a position that I could have afforded actual after-school care for the kids instead of shuffling them around to gracious friends and family who helped.

Any way you slice it, it was hard.

I didn’t clock out as a mom when I signed into the school office each morning.

Like the day my son was kicked in the eye in the five minutes between when I dropped him off at the bus stop to get to work and the bus’s actual arrival. I spent the morning emailing with his teacher checking on him between conical pendulum calculations.

I wasn’t fully present at home.

At the basketball practices we actually made it to, I spent them grading stacks of papers. Bedtime routines were passed off to my husband so I could write midterm review. One Sunday afternoon when my husband had left for a business trip and I was grading and writing lessons, my 6-year-old said, “Hey Mom, if you need to grade more papers, it’s ok. We’ll just keep playing by ourselves.” Dagger to the heart.

Every good parenting book would say to put down my work and go play with him, but when was the work going to get done? There are limited hours in the day and I had to get the papers back and midterm prep done.

These papers weren’t more important to me than my kids.

Even though the work-kinetic energy theorem brings me joy, it can’t compare to the joy of sharing the little moments with my kids.

Sometimes it’s not about priorities.

Sometimes things just have to get done. Sometimes schedules just don’t allow.

Sometimes work schedules or the situations of life keep us from being able to be present in our kids’ lives the way we want to. I felt that every day when I was working in the fall. I felt it when I was going through cancer treatment three years ago.

But it doesn’t mean my kids aren’t my priority.

It means that I’m human and sometimes something has to give.

And that’s when my village comes along beside me and fills in the gaps. 

The friends who bring dinner or keep the kids. The classmates whose parents chaperone field trips or send an extra rock for the class project. The teachers who make sure there is stability at school even when things are in upheaval at home. Those ahead of me that offer words of wisdom and encouragement. Those beside me that cheer me on.

When we stop pointing fingers of judgment and instead jump in community together, everyone wins.

I’m happy to be back to my steady mom-routine in the new year – volunteering at school, waiting at the bus stop, cooking dinners, and tutoring. I’m glad to have the opportunity to fill in the gaps for others because we’re all in this together.