Posted in Autistic Identity, Social Rules, Vocation

What Putting Yourself First Looks Like for Me

I blogged earlier about a rule I’m learning from watching Survivor: that people do, in fact, put themselves first.

I had a conversation with my trusted mentor, in the wake of leaving my principalship early.  I had remembered that he used to teach in public schools, himself.  Here’s a little of what I learned.

Put Your Own Family First

[Image: a businesswoman wearing a white dress shirt and black blazer is balancing a Scrabble-like rack with tiles spelling LIFE on one side and WORK on the other on a wooden dowel. LIFE appears to be weighing more heavily.]
The thing about vocations is that we have potentially many.  We have the one where we’re a nun, a monk, a priest, a wife, a mother, a husband, a father, a consecrated virgin, or whatever.  There’s that one.  And there’s also the one where we hopefully align our job to what we’re called to do for our work.

Two vocations.

I have been living my life as if I were called to the sisterhood, yet living as a wife and mother.  That’s a no go.

Instead, because I have more degree combinations than my husband and the greatest likelihood of lucrative employment, I am called to be the primary breadwinner.  When I carry the health insurance, traditionally, we have had good insurance.  When he carries it, it is not great and we pay out a lot for a very little.

I typically also make more money than my husband.  When I was at the university, I carried professor-like health insurance for me and my family.  I put that job with two other jobs and made more than he did.  It’s almost always been that way in my marriage.

This time, I put all the eggs in one low-paying, no insurance basket.  My retirement is now almost gone, and we got taxed substantially because we had to pull money from it.  We are spinning around in circles financially because I took this risk.

The risk I took made sense if my family vocation was that of nun.  I’m not a nun.  I’m a wife and mother.

My mentor talked about how hard it was to leave the Catholic schools for the public schools.  He talked about how people laughed at him when he said that, that they didn’t understand how hard it could possibly be to take a job that paid better with better benefits.  Also, public schoolteachers have a very protective union.  They are much safer than other types of teachers.

But he had to give up some major things.  He could no longer talk about faith, nor could he hug kids if he felt they needed it.  He said it was always awkward to know a kid needed the hug and it would be better if he did it, but to not be able to do that.  He talked about how sometimes kids need love more than they need curriculum, and when he was in Catholic schools, he felt empowered to take a break when the student needed it.

But he had to put his own family first.

Public Schools Are Trying to Change

The jury remains out whether or not this will fully ever happen, mind, since, as you probably know if you read my blog, the primary purpose of public schools is to replicate society as it is now.

But…increasingly, there is talk of trying to serve the whole child.  There is talk of trying to help kids by serving their whole selves.  There is talk of raising standards and helping everyone.

It might or might not be just talk, but what if it’s true?

What if it’s true they’re changing and trying to become a secular Catholic school, where all students have access to a college-prep education?

If the current mantra is serving the whole child and changing the environment to meet the needs of the students served, would that not allow me some degree of protection if I’m doing exactly what the new school missions and visions are claiming to do?

There’s hope now.

These Kids Need Me, Too

How often does a tween or teen have an Autistic teacher available to him or her?

There is much to be said for representation in public schools, where parents are statistically most likely to toss their kids.  My diocese, too, only has two Catholic high schools, and both are in the same city, a good 45 minutes or so away from me by car.

Also, quite frankly, I’m learning Catholic schools will pitch kids out for being too different, not because they are philosophically opposed to having them there, but because the parents flee.  The number of public school teachers with kids in Catholic schools in my town may or may not surprise you.  The reasons for them parking their kids in the schools aren’t about “high quality” curriculum (if it was, they wouldn’t tolerate these archaic textbooks); it’s about keeping them away from the bad influences.  It’s about keeping them away from the problem kids.  That’s why the kids those parents see as “problem kids” aren’t allowed to stay.

Private schools sprang up all over the South after integration because the private schools could segregate.  On the one hand, you had Black Catholic schools with very high standards at which Black students were achieving great things, and you had the non-integrated private (including Catholic) schools where the only real difference between the private school and public school was the lack of integration.

Private schools can be both types.

As an Autistic, I know the odds of an Autistic student being welcomed into a Catholic school are not great.  I know that if it were widely known that I had such students in my school, one of two things would have happened 1) I would have been very successful as a “Special Needs” Catholic school or 2) I would have closed because not enough parents wanted to take the chance on enrolling their kids in a “Special Needs” school.  Too often, Father would say if I said anything about my Disabled kids, #2 would happen, so I had to keep it somewhat quiet that I had them at all, which contributed to my closure.

So given the lack of high schools in my area and given the propensity of Catholic schools to pitch their Neurodivergent kids, these kids need me.

So, right now, I’m working hard to put into motion this rule of putting myself and my family first.

I hope, in so doing, I can still be me.

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