Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Story Behind the Picture

Open House Night was last night, and that makes for the longest two days in my opinion of the teaching year. I worked a full day yesterday, from 7:30-5, then raced home to shower and change (it was DISGUSTING in the school yesterday, high heat and humidity) and come back for 8 minute presentations to parents mimicking the school day from 6:30 - 8:30. So that day is long, and then you come in Thursday morning exhausted and braindead, and so the day seems to drag again and your stores of energy are depleted. It can't be just me who feels so utterly drained the day after Open House.

I've written about Open House before, and how torturous it was when going through infertility treatments and then adoption. I've had full on anxiety attacks while making it through this night in the midst of my own personal tragedies.

But, I didn't expect to end my night last night in tears on my couch. I thought I was "past that." Hmmph.

Here's what happened.

Everyone loves to include their children and grandchildren on their slides for Open House. Let the parents know who we are! Who are we as PEOPLE, not just teachers! It quickly becomes a litany of baby pictures, adorable children pictures, and presenting new grandchildren. Which is great, for those who have those sorts of things. To be the coteacher who has to follow slides full of extensive family trees with pictures completely devoid of children (look at my husband! my cat! my books! my garden! a trail near my house!) is a little...painful. It feels like an amplified contrast.

This is my first year coteaching 8th grade Science, which is an exciting new adventure. I decided for that class, the last of the night (I cheated and talked about my 9th period Study Skills class during lunch so we could all leave ahead of the traffic crush), my slide would be nothing but a picture of ME. As a 7-8 year old. With my chemistry set.

Me, circa about 1984
I felt I could make a joke about poor lab safety (look at those chemicals near the pancakes and bananas!) I thought it would be adorable. Maybe it would even distract from the fact that I have no adorable tiny people who look kinda sorta like me (or not) to share with the other parents.

It sucks to feel so Other. I may have mentioned my National Board Certification more times than was truly necessary because I didn't get to say I had kids in the district or who went through the schools or that I could also say "As A Parent."

So when this picture came up, I said, "This is not my child, this is ME." And then went ahead and made all my corny jokes.

It didn't catch up with me until I got home, and the thing that I felt was so empowering just moments ago felt instead a little hollow, and sad. Like I am my own small child to share to feel like I'm like everyone else. I also felt a pang of empathy for those who also don't have kids, or who aren't married or coupled, and may or may not feel even more Other on such nights.

I cried when I got home, for that little girl who once wanted to be a scientist and was slowly discouraged at school from pursuing math and science. For the woman who wanted a small child to encourage and raise into a good human at home. For the couple who wanted to share their passions and help a small human discover theirs, but it just wasn't to be. For feeling apart on a night meant to be unifying. I felt that loss acutely last night.

I feel lucky that I can love on my students and devote all my "mom-ing" energy to them. I loved that I inserted my own childhood photo as a sort of seditious act, a sort of "I don't have my own kids but look at me as a child, just as relevant even if it's a little weird."

I was just caught off guard that that picture ended up sparking such a wave of sadness afterwards. Maybe it was fueled in part by exhaustion. Maybe it was fueled in part by the onslaught of "my kids my kids my kids" from other teachers, the slideshow at the beginning of the year, and Facebook Back to School posts that are STILL COMING thanks to Preschool.

Honestly, it's probably both.


  1. Omg....Tiny Jess is the most adorable! I love that pic of you and your chemistry set with bananas and pancakes.
    (((Hugs))) because I am so sorry for all the awful feels of loss and other-ness. That truly sucks when you feel so other. I have had some feeling of otherness this week, too and it’s such a strange and terrible feeling.
    So we have done the rounds of back to school nights the last couple weeks and I can honestly say no one presented a slide show that included extensive pictures at all. The most we saw was maybe a school mascot of where they got their degrees and they listed their certifications. Literally no one talked about their own families, not in the elementary, middle, or high schools. And honestly, there really wasn’t time for them to get through all their slides as it was. And I definitely didn’t hear any “as a parent” statements. I am so sorry you were so bombarded all evening. Ooof.
    Also...muting social media can be super helpful, I know plenty of people who do and I actually had to mute some people on insta because it was just a relentless onslaught and I couldn’t deal.

  2. I am really sorry that your school colleagues put such an emphasis on their families. How does it make the parents of not-so-happy families feel, or the parents who have just split up or are about to spli up, the ones who are struggling emotionally or financially or physically? How does it make the parents feel who are in one parent families, or who have children with special needs, or the ones who don't get to have the careers they wanted? How does it feel for the parents who want to have photos of all their children but couldn't complete their families, or lost a child, or perhaps who had more kids than they wanted and feel stretched way too thin? And last but not least, whilst some of the parents may appreciate this, it shows that they are identifying with the parents, rather than the children they are to teach and guide for the year, the ones who need support despite (sometimes) their parents' best or worst efforts. For that reason, I am delighted that you used a photo of yourself with your chemistry set. I don't think it was second best at all. But I am of course sorry for why you felt that it might be, and why your tears rose to the surface when you got home. Sending hugs.

    1. These were my thoughts too. All of the photos of the "happy families" has to be hard for those who fall outside that. I hate that so much emphasis has to be on people's kids. That was SO HARD going through treatments. I love your science photo though, Jess. :)

  3. Personal slide shows at Open House? Weird. I think your insertion of your "little science Jess" photo was a brilliant counterpoint. Sorry it and the entirety of the evening stoked so many feelings.

  4. I am the taker of that adorable photo, and I see the beautiful woman you were going to become in that beautiful child. If I were your student, I would be impressed and inspired at your choices at age 7-8...Although painful, it's probably not a bad thing that you let all those tears out, after the event. Sadness must be felt and let go, for the healing to continue. You were - and are - the bravest girl in the world. Love you.

  5. I saw your pic and thought you looked so intense and inquisitive and, dare I say, adorable.

    It sounds like this seditious act also took you back to a path not taken. It's understandable that this would cause you sadness, especially on top of that looooong and exhausting day/night/day.

    Big hugs to 2019 Jess and 1984 Jess. xoxo

  6. I too think that it is odd that everyone put in so much information about their families. During my daughter's K open house her teacher barely had 5 minutes to talk about the school year let alone any personal stuff. I LOVE that you included the picture of young Jess with her chemistry set.

  7. I agree with everyone else here. Obviously, I have no kids (so no personal experience in this arena -- & I don't recall my mother mentioning any slide shows when she attended parent-teacher conferences on my behalf 40-50 years ago...!)... I am not quite sure what the purpose of your Open House was or how it was set up or why there was a slide show with so many personal photos, but it does seem a bit strange. I would think (hope??) the parents would be more interested in your teaching credentials & philosophy and what & how you're going to be teaching their kids than how many kids and grandkids you have yourself. In that respect, I think your photo choice was perfect. You shared a little bit about yourself and your pesonal history with the subject you'll be teaching their kids, which I would think is far more relevant information. (And you were pretty cute too!) (((Hugs!)))

  8. Feeling "other" is really, really hard - I'm so sorry that the night turned into that. That's a lot of painful stuff and triggers to pack into an evening, and it makes total sense why that would be tough. Sending a hug.

    The picture of you is wonderful and I love that you put that in there. Truthfully, I'd much rather see pictures like yours - much more interesting and thoughtful. And if the idea is to get to know teachers on a more personal level, yours really does that much more effectively.

  9. Your picture is THE BEST!!!!! For so many reasons. I love that you shared it with everyone. Those long days are awful. Honestly, awful is an understatement. I just had a week like this too with parent teacher conferences requiring extremely long hours. Maybe you and your team can suggest, in the interest of time, to keep presentations to school content for next year?

  10. My kiddos just started school this year, and our open house was nothing like this! We talked to the teacher(s), but they did no big presentation and definitely no slideshow. From reading the other comments here, it seems like your school does things rather unusual, and I'm so sorry for how that makes you feel. I LOVE that you used a picture of yourself!