I didn’t get to go to my daughter’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and Feast Friday because…well, work.

You see, in education, employees aren’t allowed to take off the day before a holiday. And when do preschools and elementary schools plan their holiday parties? You got it- the day before a holiday break.

I waited to tell her—waited until she asked. All week, I knew it was coming. So Thursday, as I walked through the door from work, and she greeted me with glee shouting, “Mommy, tomorrow is my parade! You’re coming, right?” I wasn’t surprised in the least. Ugh. Dagger through the heart. Lump in the throat. Punch in the gut. It took everything within me not to give in to those big brown eyes and ignore the rules just this once so I could tell her what she wanted to hear, “Yes, of course I am coming! I wouldn’t miss it for the world!”

But that would’ve been a lie. I was going to miss it. And it didn’t even take the world to make that happen. So, instead, I swallowed that temptation and said softly, “No, baby, I can’t come. I wish I could, but I have to work.” Heartbreak furrowed her brow and rolled down her lip, so I quickly followed up with, “But Daddy will be there! And Mimi, too! Daddy is even cooking the turkey!” Her face grew slightly less devastated and she said, “Ok, Mommy” and walked away.

 

Being a parent is hard. Being a working parent is really hard. I don’t always get to be there. Moments like these make me wish I could give it all up so I could be there all the time. But I know that isn’t what I want either. I have a job for a reason. I love my job. I really do. Does it have its bad days? Of course. But it has its “change your world” days, too. Friday was one of those days.

As a teacher, I spend my days with other people’s children for eight hours Monday through Friday. 170 kids every year. I get to teach them how to read, write, and think critically about literature. I get to watch them rejoice when they finally grasp a new concept. I get to witness them pour their hearts and souls on pages of essays that reveal the incredible strength some of them possess.

In the process, I also get to show my daughter that women have purpose in the work field, and if she chooses to pursue a career with passion, there is no stopping her.

So, when I realized the obstacles present to attend her Thanksgiving Feast, I had to make a really hard choice. Something in my gut told me to go to work Friday. First of all, I am a rule follower. The thought of getting in trouble for a deliberate choice plagues my conscience with anxiety. Second of all, I respect my principal a whole heck of a lot. Taking off would be disobeying his authority and putting him in a tough spot, which I just won’t do. So I went to work.

As I turned the corner approaching my classroom, God showed me the real reason that little voice in the back of my mind was telling me to go to work. One of my seniors sat outside my classroom door.

Pause—Let me tell you about this kid. He spent most of last year by his dad’s hospital bed after working his tail off at school all day. Over the summer, he lost his dad to that long battle with illness. This kid inspires me. He is kind, compassionate, bright, optimistic, and genuine. Forever will this kid be in my heart.

Unpause—I walk up to him and ask what’s up. He says he needs to talk to me. He takes a folded paper from his backpack and follows me into my classroom. Here is the gist of what he said next:

Mrs. Thompson, yesterday the video about teachers being thankful for their students and vice versa really got me. When my dad was alive, he taught me to “trust the process.” He always said the worst part of being sick wasn’t the pain; it was knowing he wouldn’t be here to teach me lessons anymore. He wouldn’t get to see me graduate or see me off to college. But we had to “trust the process.” Today, I want you to know that my dad’s lessons are still with me and through people like you, they are carried on. I have to think the process brought me to your class. I am so thankful for you, so I wrote you this letter, but…it is blank because there are no words that could sufficiently express how thankful I am for you.

Wow—what an incredible young man. He had mustered up the courage and taken the time to tell me thank you. There were so many things I wanted to say to him, but all I could manage through my tears was, “Thank you. Your dad sure did an excellent job raising a remarkable young man.”

That, my friends is why God wanted me at work Friday. And that is why I do what I do. I get to come to work every day and MAKE A DIFFERENCE. Even when I have no idea the difference I am making. I get to meet kids like this one who make the world a better place and make me want to come to work every day.

I cannot tell you how many people have told me they don’t want their children to be teachers because they don’t make enough money or the education system is terrible or whatever their reason may be. And while they are right—I make half of what I should for the time and effort I put in, and yes, the education system is flawed— it doesn’t matter. What does matter are the children sitting in the desks in my classroom who feel loved because I have taken the time to know them and care about their education and their well-being. The children walking the hallways who go home to an empty house with no food, so school is their safe place. The children who come from sheltered homes who have never known heartache, but yearn to belong. The children who are caught in the middle of their parents’ fighting and anger only to be bounced back and forth from home to home like a ping-pong ball. The children who hide scars from hurting themselves thinking it might help them escape from the reality of their lives. The children who have experienced loss so great that they aren’t sure they can continue on, but see a light in a teacher like me who promises to listen if they need to talk or sit silently if they just need to be. Those are the reasons my job matters.

So yes, I missed my daughter’s Thanksgiving Feast, and it probably won’t be the last one I will have to miss. I received pictures of her all day from my sisters and husband who did attend the party. Just like these two:

 

And when work was over, I came home and showered her with love and affection, and taking a page from my student’s book, I told her I am thankful for her because she makes my life better. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a bag of candy, “Here Mommy, I saved this for you from the parade. I love you.” I think she is going to be just fine.

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