After working as a newspaper reporter for the first 10 years of my career, I spent five years teaching high school. I was put in charge of helping shape my students’ future, but it was my students who saw deeper into mine.
Kids have a funny way of doing that. We leave our childhoods behind and forget how the same factors that made us vulnerable as children also made us more perceptive.
When I started teaching, I was proudly “child-free.” As the eldest of five, I joked that I had already served as a “second mama” to my younger siblings. At 16, I decided that I would spend my life pursuing my art and career, traveling the world, entertaining friends and, as a way of giving back, “helping other people with their kids.”
And that is what my foray into teaching after leaving the newsroom — and spending two years pursing a graduate degree in creative writing — was meant to be: my way of giving back. I taught literature, composition and journalism in Highland Park and the Crenshaw district. Those five years were some of the hardest — and most joyous and illuminating — years of my life. Utter the word “teen,” and some folks will shudder. I love that age group. Yes, they can be cantankerous, tough, sarcastic. But, in addition to hormones, much of that is armor they’ve learned to wield. Underneath, they are still soft and vulnerable and loving.
They are still kids.
“Mama Lane, why don’t you want kids?” My students gave me that nickname, and I didn’t object.
“I have kids — I have you guys,” I would tell them. “Now, get out of my business and get back to work.”
My flippant retorts were in 2004-05. So, imagine my students’ surprise when, in late 2006, I announced that I was pregnant. They had not known that I had started to have conflicting feelings about my staunch decision to be child-free. Perhaps there was something about spending most of my days with kids that had helped me do some deep inner work: Why had I made the decision? Is it still how I feel today? What kind of mother would I be?
My students were overjoyed by my news. Still, I stressed to them that women have a right to choose whether they want children or not — that there is nothing wrong with being child-free. And I admitted how freaked out I was that I was becoming a mom.
“You’re gonna be a great mom, Godmom,” my student Jasmin told me all those years ago. Today, she is 31 and a mom, wife and licensed therapist who works at a school!
As we settle deeper into the 2022-23 school year, I marvel that my son is the same age many of my former students were when I announced my pregnancy. Like my students, he teaches me every day — reminding me that as I attempt to shepherd his growth, I, too, am still growing.
Wishing you and your kids a happy and enlightening school year!
Cassandra Lane is Editor-in-Chief of L.A. Parent.