When I returned home from England I don’t think many people realized how truly devastated I really felt. For the first time in my life I didn’t know what my future looked like. This little dream of mine to teach across seas and travel while doing it, completely collapsed and I surrendered to the destruction by returning home with no back-up plan. And it was crushing as I was consumed by an overwhelming feeling of uncertainty.
But then I found Mazo. This little child care centre that took me in immediately, regardless of my lack of experience with early years, and quickly became my second home for the next three years. And this little home of mine kept me safe while I faced a new kind of devastation, and taught me what it really means for ALL of us to carry some sort of baggage.
For the first year I was a Preschool teacher. And I learned about fairy tales, outer space, gardening, jungle animals and celebrations. I learned patience and persistence while facing snowsuits and tantrums and boo boos. I learned that a giant box could be made into a haunted house, a space planetarium, a castle or a school bus. We had tea parties, dance parties, costume parties, graduation parties and goodbye parties. I learned about friendships and imagination and magic. And most importantly I learned the lyrics to every song on the Frozen soundtrack.
In my second year I went to our School Age Program: my comfort zone, my experienced group, my people. I learned about science experiments, cooking for a restaurant, knitting, gymnastics, and origami. I learned about girl drama, stubbornness and the struggles of not wanting to do homework at the YMCA. We played SPUD, Diamond Smugglers, Capture the Flag, Chess, and Huckle Buckle. We explored the creek and built a massive Lego City. I learned that school agers are harder to please than preschoolers but they are creative and have such enthusiasm for new opportunities to learn. They show confidence, compassion and curiosity. And most importantly I learned how to master a hot seat while tobogganing.
In my second year I became sick. My poor school agers had supply staff and occasional teachers for weeks and months at a time while I was off. I realized how sick I was when I needed to walkie-talkie for someone to cover me for a washroom break. And by the time I came back, (if I even made it in time), I needed to go again. So with tears in my eyes, I told Ana I needed to take a break. I told her I have never been so sick and I don’t know what to do. Her response was, “Don’t worry. We’ll make it work. Take all the time you need.” The next day I was admitted to the hospital for the first time and I was there for 2 weeks. So my school agers made me signs and cards sending well wishes but showed resilience and understanding while facing the inconsistency. And this is when I first experienced a warm welcome back. I was always greeted by hugs and smiles, concern and worry, high-fives and fist pumps.
And then came my third year. My toddlers. My babies. My Dream Team. I learned about colours, frogs, babies, construction, airplanes, food and hot air balloons. I learned to keep it together while facing boogers, diapers and yogurt day. I learned that boxes can be made into boats, houses, pizza ovens or beast caves. We painted feet, drove scooters, took care of our pets, played in slime and made giant bubbles. I learned about diaper cream, which in fact came in handy for my own use in my most recent recovery. I learned about cuddles, kisses, giggles, first words and absolute wonder with the world around us. And most importantly, I learned the lyrics to Shake Your Sillies Out.
These babies also dealt with my sick leaves but again, greeted me with hugs and slobbery kisses upon every return. They made scribbly pictures and handprint cards and provided dandelions or tiny sequins as little signature presents that meant the world coming from tiny humans.
When you work a full time job but are chronically ill, it takes a special kind of workplace to accommodate you. But when your work becomes your home, somehow we just dealt with it. As a team we made it through every leave of absence (for me there were 7), every sick day, every leak, every meltdown and every return. Somehow we made it through laughing while I pulled my hair out (literally) or shit my pants (literally) or potty trained (literally). But I assure you, without this particular group of women at Mazo, it may have been a different story.
To my families: thank you for letting me into your lives. Thank you for allowing me to take a small role in the care of your little humans who hold such a special place in my heart. Thank you for understanding my absences, my fatigue, my scatter-brain. Thank you asking me how I am, for checking in, for asking questions and for showing you care. Thank you for supporting me, encouraging me, and being some of my biggest fans.
To my colleagues, my friends: thank you for teaching me and showing me what it means to be an outstanding educator. Thank you for being my role models and mentors. Thank you for covering for me, picking up my slack (and all of my belongings), or having my back. Thank you for making me care packages, sending cards, visiting in the hospital, and for pizza parties. Thank you for texting me, calling me, sending photos and keeping me updated on those tiny humans. Thank you for being colleagues who turned into friends who turned into family.
Being an ECE is hard. I admire each and every one of you. You come to work with baggage I can’t imagine dealing with, yet put on smiles and sing songs and put your lives on the back burner while you make Mazo the happiest place in the world. Please, continue to take care of yourselves first so you can continue taking care of my Mazo babies. Please, remember to enjoy the sunshine and butterflies and flowers during the summer so when it comes time to deal with snow suits and -30 windchills you’ll still come in with that same positivity ready to make snow men and walk to the North Pole.
To the YMCA in general: Thank you for being an organization that is accommodating, understanding and cooperative. Thank you for taking as much pride in building healthy employees that you do in building healthy communities. Thank you for working with me so I could return for a full 3 years rather than telling me to take a hike. Thank you for teaching me, developing me, and empowering me. And thank you for supporting me in my decision to leave Mazo, for a fresh start. A new beginning.
So now for the second time in my life, I don’t exactly know what my future looks like. But I know it’s bright. Mazo taught me to trust the process. To communicate with your workplace, to stay positive and to LET IT GO (queue Frozen). So here goes nothing….my closure may have just happened but my new beginning is just getting started. And I’m certain I can handle it.