Friday 16 August 2019

Maximum responsibility

At some point in my early 20s, I realized my greatest fear was being useless.

It was probably the year I spent being unemployed after my first degree. I learned a lot about who I was during that year. Prior to that, if you asked me who I was, I would have talked about how I was a creative person, thoughtful, intellectual etc. I certainly would have described myself as hardworking and conscientious, because that was true. The other things are true too. But my life experiences also mainly involved going to school and university and working at summer jobs, getting good grades and job reviews, and having people tell me how smart I was and how I could do anything. I certainly experienced difficulties , but nothing that took me apart or sent a broadside into my world view. 

After I graduated with my BA  honours, my plan consisted of finding a job somewhat related to my degree, working for a few years, then maybe going to grad school. Unlike many of my fellow grads I had taken the cooperative education program, and worked in areas such as web development, conference organizing, marketing and desktop publishing. I thought I had it going and would find work easily.

Instead I spent a year living with my parents and applying to jobs, and getting almost no response. It might have been that there was a recession. It might have had something to do with the fact that when I was a student, my employers got a subsidy from the government for hiring me, which gave me an inflated idea of my employability. Whatever the case, I had two job interviews in a year, and I wasn’t offered either job. However, they are representative of the sorts of things I was applying for: one was to work for a wine seller writing descriptions of their wine, the other  was at a small academic publisher. 

By the end of that year I had reached a conclusion: if it was this bloody hard to get a job, then the job had better be worth it. I was not going to expend my energy doing something trivial. And that’s how I decided to go back to school and become a teacher. 

In hindsight I am extremely grateful for that year of unemployment and failure. If I had gotten one of the jobs I applied for, it might have taken me longer to learn that crucial lesson about myself. I might have continued with the delusion that I knew and was enough, when the truth was I needed to take risks and try things that I wasn’t (yet) good at. But that year really, really sucked. If you gave me a choice between reliving the worst moments of my life, and reliving the year of unemployment, I’d choose the worst moments of my life. Except for the time I thought I was miscarrying. 

Fast forward to the present:

I return to full time teaching at the end of the month after an 18 month leave. AJ is starting kindergarten and Dani will be in AJ’s old daycare (which we liked a lot.) I am starting a new job in a program I haven’t taught before. I teach special education which is partly like typical teaching and partly like having another family: a very big complex one involving A LOT of patience and skill and teamwork. 

Beyond that, Mr Turtle is also working full time and in the process of registering as a psychologist, which takes a significant amount of money and some time too. It will be worth it in the long run but it is part of the reason it makes sense for me to work full time, as is the fact that Mr Turtle also has a chronic condition managed in part by expensive medication.

My mom is also in her late 70s and increasingly needing more help with things. Our relationship has been changing the past couple of years as more and more she comes to me and my brothers for help in crises and for basic problem solving. She still manages her regular routine well and is physically healthy but anything out of the ordinary is a problem. It is a challenge but we are using resources in the community and doing assessments and trying to address each issue methodically. We all agree that we need to plan for the future before there is a real crisis.  We still have fun with my mom as a family, so that’s heartening.

Overall....this feels like a lot. And of course those are only the things I know about....what about all the unexpected possibilities? It’s enough to keep me awake some nights and I know the anxiety and intensity will cause me to lose at least five pounds in doubts there. 

What calms me is the realization that this is who I always wanted to be: a person who matters. I could have made different choices in my past, maybe better ones, who knows. But whatever I did couldn’t have been too wrong because it has brought me to the point where I can take on maximum responsibility. Of course that is a subjective term: what is the maximum? I can’t say for sure but it is probably more than I believe I can do. That doesn’t mean I won’t ask for help or delegate: it’s one of my goals to do exactly that in the next few months. What it means is I’m (mostly) not trying to run away from what I can and should do. I’m not seeing it as an oppressive force denying me the life I “should” have.  The life I have is exactly the life I should have. 

More thoughts on responsibility  that I have found helpful and thought provoking.

 Not to be too heavy, I also plan to have a lot of fun. Looking at the last week:

  • I helped my mom at the bank when she was targeted by a scammer. (She didn’t lose any money). Worked with very helpful bank staff to  put in place protections. Communicated successfully with my brothers so they can help too. 
  • Did some fun back to school shopping with my daughters and my mom cane along to help as well. Ok it’s not always fun to shop with my almost five year old VERY opinionated daughter but it all turned out well. 
  • Had a play date with my good friend at a community event, then took care of her son for an afternoon while she took her mom to an appointment for cancer diagnosis (I know, nothing gets simpler and easier. But the kids and I had fun.)
  • I managed to make a pot of soup for a former colleague who had foot surgery.
  • Something about August makes me want to bake. Latest was a cake pan of blueberry lemon bars. It happened to be a day I was doing a lot of errands and appointments so I divvied them up and left a few with every person I saw. This made me happy.
  • Went to an appointment with my mom, a social worker and occupational therapist (still need to write that one up). Saw a lawyer to update her will and other documents, then helped her but a bathing suit and we went swimming with the kids.
  • Washed and organized all my work clothes so I don’t have to think about them the last week of vacation (which Mr Turtle also has off) except to feel good about how on top of things I am.
Well I could go on and on but you get the idea. Life is happening. It comes at me and the people around me in waves and we grab the nearest floaty thing and surf them. It can be scary and overwhelming and also fun.


  1. This is a great post. I think your last paragraph sums life up pretty well. That’s exactly how I feel on a constant basis...we will be swimming along peacefully and then we are thrown things and just start to tackle each thing and rely on those around us to help buoy us.

    Sending lots of good thoughts out to you as you dive back into teaching and all that entails. I pray it’s a smooth transition, but even if it’s not I know you are strong enough to get through! I hope you check in here to let us know how it’s going. And also how AJ is doing in Kindergarten, as we are starting K this fall, too!! Lots of love!!

    1. Thanks, I so appreciate your kind words and your encouragement! I am doing my best to make it smooth but of course I know it's impossible to anticipate everything....part of being prepared is just giving myself a helpful illusion that I'm prepared so I'm calmer hahahaha.

      Glad you appreciated the metaphor in last paragraph. I was going to use a surfing metaphor then decided not to because 1)I've never surfed and 2) skilled surfers are very graceful and impressive and I don't expect to come off that way all the time hahaha! Swimming around in the water holding buoyant objects seemed like a more accurate picture.

  2. I love this post, so much good stuff here. I love your definition of special education: "I teach special education which is partly like typical teaching and partly like having another family: a very big complex one involving A LOT of patience and skill and teamwork." PERFECT.

    I also love your "The life I have is exactly the life I should have." I need to get that tattooed on my face. Okay, that's not the life I should have, but I need to get that on a print or something that I keep in front of my face all the time.

    Good luck when you start up again -- a new program can be overwhelming, but also a great opportunity to learn something new and find out you're good at something you never knew you could be. And mmmm, those lemon blueberry bars sound amazing! If they were gluten free I would have loved a surprise gift of those! (I still have about 5 pounds of my 10 pounds of blueberries, and I need to bake them up... if you have a recipe please send, I can adapt!)

    1. Thanks! yes there is a peace and clarity that comes with accepting things as they are. I didn't write about it in the entry but something that I hope will make this transition at least a little more straightforward is the fact we are not actively trying to sabotage the new life, i.e. trying to have another child. That's a negative way to put it but it is accurate in many ways to 2015: I was trying to adjust to a new life while at the same time looking to create a totally different one! multiple mindfucks going on.

      Yes, I'm going to try to focus on the "opportunity to learn" piece of this as much as possible. Opportunity to learn, build relationships, expand my much potential! I also am hoping to get lots of help and guidance the first few weeks because I will NOT be at my optimal creative best!

      The recipe for anyone interested:

  3. Thanks for the recipe!I'm going to try that, but might have to wait for summer. Sigh. I agree with Jess that it sounds delicious.

    I can relate to the issues of caring with elderly parents - it's the story of my life (and has been for a good 10 years or so now). Good luck for the return to teaching, and for everything else you're coping with. You are definitely being useful!

    1. Thanks! Yes, I will need support with the elderly parent piece (my in laws are still independent and mostly helping *us* but nothing is forever). we are taking some positive steps so it doesn't feel too overwhelming yet.

  4. Sounds like you've a lot going on! I'm the type of person who enjoys keeping busy but I often overplan and sign up to too much stuff when I'm feeling motivated but then the balance swings the other way and I end up feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
    I'm glad you managed to prevent your Mum paying money to a scammer! They have gotten very smart these days.

    1. Ugh, haven't they? and truly is harassment, not soliciting.

      I also tend to have unrealistic expectations of what I can do