At my doctor’s recommendation, I left my 12-year teaching career four years ago. But I think about it all the time and often find myself reminiscing about the first five years of my career when I taught kindergarten. I wasn’t just teaching 5-year-olds how to read; I was also teaching them how to be in school. And I have come to realize that many of our kindergarten rules and practices are also applicable and relevant to my life now as a woman living with an autoimmune disease.
1. Take a deep breath. 5-year-olds can get very dramatic, very quickly. And while I’m a calm person, I too can get worked up – crying at the news that one test result requires a further test, frustrated that my medication needs to be adjusted again, upset that my medical insurance didn’t cover the amount I thought it would. I can’t change the facts. But I can essentially press “pause” on the situation, take a deep breath and go from there.
2. Use your words. Young children are quick to react. If they feel they have been wronged in any way, a push, a shove or a kick may soon follow. But physically acting out only makes things worse. Young children often don’t have the vocabulary, so I gave them prompts. “I didn’t like it when …” “It hurt my feelings when…” “I felt mad when …” Likewise, keeping quiet doesn’t help my family know what’s going on with me. They won’t know I woke up with stiff knees if I don’t tell them. They won’t know my fingers are aching or my legs feel like lead if I don’t use my words and tell them.
3. Take a time-out. Our classroom had a time-out chair set apart from the group. A child in the time-out chair could still watch the lesson, but s/he was separated from the rest of the class. The purpose of a time-out was to give the child time to think about what s/he did wrong and what s/he could do better. At home, I have the luxury of going to my room to take a time-out, but I don’t often take advantage of it. I keep pushing myself and maybe, instead of chugging along, my body and my mind would benefit from a two-minute time-out.
4. Tomorrow is a new day. Some school days felt as if my students had gone out for espresso before the morning bell. Days when a child decided to give himself a haircut, didn’t get to the bathroom in time, threw-up during rug time, walked in with dog poop on the bottom of her shoe, pushed another child down on the playground, and used words I didn’t know until I was in high school. But that was that day. Tomorrow is always a new day, a fresh start, another chance, for the kids and for me. And even though I’m no longer in the classroom, nothing has changed. Today it may feel like everyday household tasks (emptying the dishwasher, turning on the garden hose, getting in and out of the car) cause extreme pain. But…