It was Back to School night. A night that, as a teacher, I was both nervous and excited about. The room began to fill with fresh four-year-old faces and their families. A boy and his mother made their way towards me, smiling, as the mother introduced him, “This is Johnathan.”
“Nice, to meet you, Johnathan. And who is this with you?” I said, glancing up at his mother.
He raised a brow and said, “Just my mom.”
Later that night, after putting my own daughter to bed, Johnathan’s words were still ringing in my ears. “Just my mom.” “Just my mom.”
“A mother’s presence can become so ubiquitous that she is taken for granted ... What we do and who we are is often invisible to our children.”
Throughout the school year, I would grow to know and love Johnathan and his classmates. The majority of them were privileged enough to have stay-at-home mothers who were loving, caring, and active in our school and classroom events. When Mother’s Day rolled around, I knew that we had to prepare some extra special crafts for these doting mothers. I found an adorable About My Mom questionnaire and sat with each child to take dictation and fill out each paper.
“What’s your mom’s name?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, what does your dad call her?”
“I don’t know.”
“Where does your mom work?”
“What does your mom do when you are at school?”
“Clean up my mess,” said one child. “Buy me toys,” said another. “Wait for me.”
“Wait for you? What do you mean,” I ask.
“She drops me off then waits for me to finish school and takes me home.”
“The whole time?” I press.
“Yes,” she insists.
“I don’t know what she does,” one child says.
“Well, I am sure she does a lot of things. Like, right now, when you are sitting here talking to me, what do you think your mom might be doing?”
“I don’t know.”
“What does she like to do for fun?” I ask, feeling the desperation rising.
“I don’t know what she likes.”
There were many, many conversations like this. Out of my entire class, three or four were able to answer these questions in a way that acknowledged that their mother was an actual human being with thoughts, feelings and needs.
In my home, I am a mother. In my classroom, I fill the mother role for 17 children. Sometimes you start to feel like a pair of hands. “Will you open this?” “Can you please tie my shoe?” “Can I have some more water?” I fight to give myself some visibility as a person and give myself dimension greater than just “my teacher.” During share time, I enjoy sharing my personal experiences and stories whenever appropriate. I love the surprise on the children’s faces when they realize that I — gasp — don’t live at the school.
“Love is a sacrifice. Your children love you. They need to see you and know you. You deserve to be known.”
For most people, it comes as no surprise that children are naturally egocentric. Every teacher has learned Jean Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development. Children are learning and cannot be blamed or judged. Yet, sitting there listening to some of the children’s responses, I felt the pain of a mother’s daily struggle. We often feel unappreciated and much of what we do may go unnoticed. Our children may think that we exist simply to meet their needs and, although may not express that directly, their actions speak clearly.