Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Forward. Stop. Reverse. Forward, forward, forward.

Yesterday was like an emotional game of Simon Says. "Simon Says make long-term plans!" "Change your long-term plans!" "Wait, Simon didn't say!"

Here's where yesterday started:

In the front seat of my van, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready for the 35-minute commute to my new job. In order to communicate the insanity of yesterday, I should also mention what's not pictured: me going on roughly 3 hours of sleep, attempting to deal with debilitating allergies/a possible sinus infection, and some residual back pain from a displaced rib.

But I was choosing to be positive.

Yesterday was my first day as a Special Ed Paraeducator at Dan Peterson School in American Fork. I accepted the job about a week ago--I subbed for several weeks before being offered a position as a classroom aide. The day went fairly smoothly--I filled out paperwork and spent the day in a class where I had subbed before, feeding, changing, repositioning, and working with secondary and post-secondary students.

Then in the afternoon, I got online to start my MFA homework. And learned that I was actually able to take an additional class, which would allow me to graduate an entire semester earlier than I had planned. And that I had enough financial aid to live off AND take that extra class.

I had known about the financial aid, but not about the class. And the class was the straw that broke the camel's back--it clarified for me something I already knew in my gut, but was too afraid to admit.

It just didn't make sense for me to be working almost 30 hours a week at a job I didn't necessarily need, when I could be spending that time advancing my MFA. Especially when I was already spending 20-40 hours per week working on a show. Especially when I already had a job at University of Utah, which would force me to get a sub for two or three days per month if I was working at Dan Peterson. Keeping the job at Dan Peterson meant spreading myself so thin, trying to walk towards so many mountains at once. It made the most sense to quit the job at Dan Peterson.

But what a sh*tty thing to do--quit a job on the first day. And it was an awesome job. A beautiful job. I loved the kids. I still do. Those sweet students. Working at Dan Peterson felt, for all the world, like Alianza--a group of smart and caring people doing some amazing things in the world of education. I felt welcomed and at home, and it was so rewarding to do that work, even in the moments when it was difficult.

I spent an hour or two agonizing over my decision, thinking, talking with Jacob, praying. Quitting the job at Dan Peterson made the most sense, emotionally, financially, professionally, mentally, and spiritually. But I hated to put the school in such a terrible position--without an aide, AGAIN, for who knows how long until they could hire someone else. My ego was afraid of what everyone would think--that I was flaky or unprofessional or weak-spirited or selfish or any number of things. What would the principal think? The teachers? The other aides? And my heart didn't want to leave those students, or that place of belonging.

But I had to move toward that MFA mountain.

So I called the principal and left a message, apologizing and inarticulately tendering my resignation. She called me back shortly afterwards, expressing understanding but saying she was sorry to see me go. I originally thought about trying to stay for a few extra days this week, just to keep them from needing to find a sub, but my MFA classes began already. And it's tech week. If ever I needed the time to devote to school, it's this week. So that was it. My first day at work was also my last.

After that horrible phone call with the principal (horrible only because it was so difficult), I did my homework, tried to eat some dinner, then went to tech rehearsal for Jane Eyre, where I stayed until almost midnight. (And where I also gave an abbreviated explanation of my situation to several kind people who asked how my new job was going.) And then I drove home--listening to the BBC for the 45-minute commute and eating Reeses Pieces to stay awake.

Here's where yesterday ended:

In the dark, around 1 in the morning, barely awake, physically and emotionally exhausted, sitting in the front seat of my van, trying to muster the energy to get into the house and go to bed.

I stayed in bed for as long as I possibly could this morning.

Then I drove to Dan Peterson School again, this time to fill out resignation paperwork. The staff was kind and understanding, and said they would welcome me back when I was able to work again. I thanked them for everything, then left the office. Halfway down the hallway, I glanced over my shoulder at the classrooms where I would have been working. J's class, with her sweet students, where I subbed for weeks and felt so much love and belonging. T's and K's class, where I would have been spending my days, with those students who were smart and funny and rebellious. I took a step towards those rooms at the end of the hall, wanting with my whole heart to just say goodbye, to say thank you. But I couldn't quite bring myself to do it.

A small part of me was afraid of what the teachers and aides would think--I didn't want to face their possible judgement, both for leaving and for visiting their classrooms to say goodbye. But ultimately, I didn't do it because I knew that it's very likely that I will never see those students again. I have never been good at goodbyes. I hate them, because a goodbye is never as fulfilling as knowing you'll see someone all the time. I can never say enough, or say what I mean. And in the case of some of these students, they might not have heard or understood me anyway. And it would have been selfish of me, to interrupt their school day and their routine just to attempt to satisfy my need to...I don't know, have a grand gesture of closure.

It's possible that I'll work for Dan Peterson School again someday. But I don't know when, and I don't know which students will still be there. Some of them may move. Some may graduate. And the harsh truth is that some of them may die. Dan Peterson School is a place for students with both mental disabilities, and physical disabilities. Some of them are considered "medically fragile." Some of them have DNRs. The staff regularly deal with seizures and falls. So I knew that if and when I return to the school, it won't be to this same situation, to these same students.

So I walked out to my van and drove to the library to do my homework, crying the entire time.

I know, ultimately, that this was the right decision. Working at Dan Peterson School was the right thing at the wrong time. I would have been just as heartbroken to give up additional schooling. This was a difficult choice between two very good things. I'm sad to have to give up one of them.

But I'm also so blessed. I get to do other things that I love--I get to act, onstage, and even be paid for it. I get to write and study and read and learn. I get to choose my own schedule in some ways, as I pursue my degree. I've got an incredible husband--this amazing companion, this best friend that will listen to me cry and let me talk through things when I'm in crisis. I get to spend my evenings in a theatre, surrounded by brave and kind and talented people, telling stories. And I'm healthy and well-fed and I have a working car and clothes and enough cash to make ends meet. I clung to all of these truths with so much gratitude all day yesterday, and I'm filled with them today.

So here's to grad school, to theatre, and to everything else I'm lucky enough to have.

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