29 Sep The Whole 30
To say that COVID has shattered the lives of many would be the biggest understatement of 2020.
I recently learned that a place very dear to my heart has been forced to shut its doors as a result of being dark since March. I am a proud alumna of the American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) in San Francisco, which for the last couple of decades has been housed at 30 Grant Avenue, close to Union Square. A former Voice and Speech teacher of mine announced on Facebook that A.C.T. had to let go of its lease, and all staff members subsequently began packing and closing up shop. It pained me to read this and I was weepy for a good portion of the day. It was one of those instances where it’s the last thing you think about before closing your eyes at night, and the first thing you think about when you open your eyes in the morning.
Why so much sadness because of a building in a city that I don’t even live in? Let me tell you what this building and its walls represent.
This is the place where I met my best friends in the entire world. This is the place where, as a naive twenty-something trying to find her way, I felt most alive. This is the place where I auditioned for grad school year after year, laughed, cried, and felt as though I was playing in the “Big Leagues”. This place molded me into the woman I am today. These walls have seen and heard it all, and they echo the sentiments of the countless artists that have walked through them over the years. It is the end of an era for thousands of students, actors, directors, teachers, and administrators, and I share in their sadness and grief, even though we are on two different time zones.
Fortunately, I had the opportunity to visit A.C.T. again this past November before the COVID madness hit, and little did I know that it would be my last goodbye. I am a very big believer in the power of smell and the memories that it can trigger. When the elevator doors opened onto the seventh floor nine months ago, the smell of a moment in time came flooding back. I could smell the pages of Samuel French plays in the archaic little library. I could smell rehearsals and the creaks of the rickety floor beneath me. I could smell sweat and triumph, and defeat and pain. And for the split second that I closed my eyes, I was immediately transported back in time, and for a moment, I was twenty-four-year old Heather again, youthful and carefree.
I am sharing this part of myself with you because up until recently, I really didn’t have much understanding of what a pandemic can do to people and the economy. This has been a very eye-opening experience for me, both as a mom and as a professional.
As with A.C.T., I too have had to make a very difficult decision to “let go”. I recently left a college teaching job as an Early Childhood Education professor, which I loved. I realized that working from home while being an employee and mom at the same time and in the same breath are virtually impossible. Yes, I am one of those few that have been fortunate enough to remain employed with the “luxury” of teaching from home.
But what few people know is that while I may have been home with my children since March, I can say with all honesty that I definitely wasn’t present.
I became a yeller out of sheer frustration. I lost my cool more times than I care to count. I only surfaced from my office / makeshift classroom to make sure that my kids were fed (which was every 20 minutes). I left my children in front of the tv for hours on end just so that I could submit grades on time and correct exams and papers, and try to adapt all my lectures to suit our new online reality; all this to only later discover that my 5-year-old seemed to have developed a twang from an overload of Disney Junior, while my 19-month-old suddenly turned into a toddler overnight. And even though I’ve been home, I seemed to have missed it all. So, I painstakingly labored over this decision for weeks. I know it should have been a no-brainer, and perhaps for some, it would have been. But for me, it was hard to let go and succumb to the undoubtedly rewarding, yet full-time job of “just” being a mom. I have always been one to work and enjoy my sense of freedom and independence. And now, after having been home all these months, my sense of identity outside of “mom role” is something that I have really come to value and appreciate more than ever.
Superficial as it may sound, right before officially bidding farewell to working Heather, I took one last look inside my closet just to make sure I was doing the right thing for myself. I ran my fingers through all my “work” blazers (half of which I never even got to wear, of course) and gazed lovingly at my prized collection of 3 and 4-inch heels one last time. Will I be able to get dressed up again and go to the ball? Or am I now destined to be Cinderella in a tie-dye or a kitschy Carole Baskin sweat suit day after day?
It took a few days to let my new reality sink in, and I am totally at peace with my decision to be a STAY-AT-HOME MOM for now. There, I said it loud and proud!
I have decided that even though 2020 has been a bust, the remainder of it will be a year of change and personal growth. As rewarding as my job has been, those of you who are teachers and reading this, know very well that the workload and emotional investment don’t automatically disappear once you leave the classroom for the day. It is often difficult to shut your teacher brain off at night, and family time and self-care are habitually sacrificed because deadlines are looming, and well, your students are depending on you. At least this has been my reality for the last seven years.
Only a few weeks into my new groove, and I am already a more present mom. I am focusing more on myself and getting all those shelved home workouts in. I am spending time on personal projects and goals that I have put on the backburner for far too long. I am making this time truly count because up until now, I have been going through the rigorous daily motions of motherhood and work, and one day has just blurred into the next.
And when the time is right, I will return to the classroom that is my stage and the second act will commence. As A.C.T. has wisely coined its latest hashtag – #ItsJustIntermission. And what a fulfilling and grand intermission it will be.
Heather holds an M.A. in Child Studies from Concordia University and is a professor at CDI College in the department of Early Childhood Education on leave. She has worked with countless children in numerous daycares and in theatre settings, and often reflects on these experiences as she raises her own children. She credits A.C.T. for their #itsjustintermission hashtag and for having played an integral part in her life.