Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines dedication as a self-sacrificing devotion.
In the middle of the parking lot, I cried while I held him, cradling his head against the curve of my neck so that he couldn’t see my tears. On the shuttle I waved goodbye, tears streaming silently down my cheeks, smiling and waving to not upset him. All the way to the airport I cried, I looked out the window at the valley, noticed the exit for my school as we passed, thought about the babies in their classrooms, thought about all the people I was leaving behind and cried and cried and cried. I don’t cry. Certainly not in public.
I tried a few times to calm myself down and managed to make it through airport security without any breakdowns. As soon as the plane began to take off, tears splashed down into my lap, rolling down the curves of my face, collecting in the crevices of my clavicle filling them up like canyons of sorrow.
Nothing about being here is as hard as leaving my son. Nothing. Six weeks feels like a lifetime.
So do not preach to me about dedication.
I know what it means to be dedicated to a cause that is bigger than you. I am a mother. There are very few mothers in Teach for America. I know of none who left their child 3000 miles away to do this work for the summer. I’m not saying that there aren’t others, just that I don’t know them. And when people find out I have a child and ask me about him, I usually have to choke back tears at the mere mention of his name. That is how much my heart is breaking everyday I am away.
This work is also heartbreaking. We talk continuously about the challenges the children face and that they need someone who believes in them and their ability to succeed. They need someone who cares about them and will do whatever it takes. Whatever it takes. And I am doing whatever it takes to be that person for these children, for my child.
So do not tell me that I should prioritize. I know exactly what my priorities are.
I hope my son will appreciate this some day that he will learn to be okay with having to share his mother so much and will see the value in the work we are doing. It is because he is important to me that I am a teacher because all children deserve the love, attention and education I am determined he receive.
I know exactly why I am here, even when it’s difficult I know why I am doing it. My hope is that when my son looks back on this he will recognize why as well because this summer is only the beginning.
Do not talk to me about dedication. I am a mother. Talk to me about the sleep you didn’t get, the heads you’ve cradled and the tears you’ve shed. Don’t talk to me about urgency. I know precisely what’s at risk. I look him in the eyes everyday. That’s why I am here. That’s why I teach.