Today’s mama is very, very special to me. I met Amanda – back then she was Miss Olsen – my first day of high school. She was my ninth grade English teacher, and I was immediately captivated by her. Invariably, I would come home and report some insight she had shared or hilarious thing she had done every night at the dinner table. I had her as a teacher several more times over my high school career (and even “took” English 9 at least twice more as her intern) and am so grateful to now call her a treasured friend. Amanda is without a doubt my most important mentor – there is no one aside from my parents who has shaped my character or personality more than she has. She is funny, fun, extremely smart, a gifted writer, principled, tough, thoughtful, creative, eloquent, and many other wonderful things. I am so grateful for her, and so excited to share her thoughts on motherhood!
P.S. Her “day in the life” is a bit long, but I think one of the most fascinating parts of these interviews is the mundane details about jobs and days – I hope they’re interesting to y’all, too!
From my high school graduation, with Amanda and another dear friend (circa 2005!)
Name: Amanda Fagan
Occupation: High School Principal
With whom do you live? I live with my husband of nine years, Tim, our three kids Boden (7), Declan (5), and Hope (3), plus our big, dumb dog Levi and two beta fish named Rainbow and Bluock. (I know. Bluock??)
What does a day in the life look like for you? My alarm goes off at 5:30am on a typical day. Sometimes that’s when I get up… and sometimes that’s when I begin the process of hitting snooze repeatedly, even though the seven additional minutes associated with each snooze are not really worth it. Shower, get dressed, do make-up, and then bask in the sweet, sleepy kid process of ‘good-byes’ to my babies, all three of whom are still in bed when I leave each day.
They have their own little routines they like to do with me, most notably being Declan, who, as I kiss him and whisper, “Bye, buddy. Have a great day. I love you,” bursts passionately out of sleep and exclaims, “I have to say my things!” His “things” are the following, recited largely without expression but in the same order lest there be a catastrophic meltdown at having forgotten something: “Bye, Mommy. I love you. Drive safely. Don’t let the car bugs bite. Have fun driving. Sweet driving. Have fun working. Sweet working. And can I wave to you from your window?” I back out of the garage, careful to scan all of the windows to look for last minute waving, and if little faces are there, I roll down the window to hear all the “bye! I love you!” exclamations again. I stop by Dunkin for a large tea (two teabags, one equal, and skim milk) and get to school around 7:00am.
My workday is different every single day. In the hallways to greet kids, observing classes, attending or facilitating meetings, answering or composing tons of emails (I spend far more time that I ever expected to, sitting at my desk, typing away madly at my computer), working with guidance or our school psychologists around a student in crisis, working with the Assistant Principals on a disciplinary issue, interviewing students to find out more information about some disruption to the learning environment, planning programs (faculty meetings, leadership team meetings, school-wide assemblies, advisory lessons, etc.), speaking to parents on the phone or in person, signing checks, answering questions from teachers, guidance counselors and secretaries who regularly pop in to my office, and just generally bouncing from project to project to project.
I leave school at 4:00pm and drive to day care (about 25-30 minutes away) to pick up Hope and hear from her and her “daytime Mommy,” Miss Alison, the recap of her day. Sometimes she is delighted to see me and runs, smiling, to leap into my arms. Other times she wants nothing to do with me and must be gently coerced to leave Miss Alison. Together, Hope and I drive to the boys’ school to pick them up from after care. They are typically immersed in some grand Lego construction activity or craft project, so we help them clean up and head for home. It takes me about an hour to an hour and 15 minutes to get from school to home each day with the pick-ups.
Most days, we have an activity to get to after pick-ups are complete. For example, in the fall it was swimming for Declan and Hope on Monday, swimming for Boden on Tuesday, soccer for Declan (and me, his coach) on Wednesday, and soccer for Boden on Thursday. Tim rolls in just after we get home (or we meet at the parking lot of the pool), and we divide and conquer. Usually I do the activity because Tim cooks dinner and packs lunches for the next day.
We eat as a family every night. It’s a priority we hold really dear and hope to be able to maintain even as our children get older and more heavily scheduled. At 7:00, everyone heads upstairs for pajamas and toothbrushing. In the winter, we shower the crew on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights. In the summer, it’s almost every day because they are sweaty, dirty, and covered in sunscreen. We read bedtime books together… and now we are in a place where Boden, who is in second grade, will read the bedtime story to Hope, snuggled into her bed with her. Everyone is in bed with lights out at 7:30.
Once the kids are in bed, Tim and I clean up the kitchen from dinner, finish up lunches, and pack the kids’ backpacks and school folders for the next day. Usually by 8:00pm I can sit down to start whatever work I brought home, and I usually work through until about 11:00. Some nights, I have an event at school, so I don’t come home in between… or I come home to do the pick-ups, get the kids settled with Tim, and then head back to school. Other nights, I don’t work at 8:00, and instead Tim and I watch mindless HGTV until bedtime. Those nights are rare once the school year is really up in full swing.
Amanda is now the principal of the high school from which we both graduated. It has an extensive agricultural program, leading, on occasion, to some unexpected activities for her during the day!
What do you eat for lunch? Dinner? My packed lunch every day is the same thing: Progresso light chicken corn chowder, carrots, grapes, a Dannon Greek yogurt (vanilla or lime), and a kiddie Clif bar. I rarely have time to get to all of that, and certainly not in one sitting. I often eat the little things first because they are quick and transportable. Tim cooks dinner every night (I know; he’s amazing.). We use a lot of Weight Watchers recipes that seem to be heavy on vegetables: chicken stir fry. Beef and broccoli. Garden vegetables in pasta. Grilled chicken or steak with green beans and brown rice.
Netflix obsession: Truly, we are not much into television and go to the movies maybe once a year. This is life with three small kids. I did binge watch the entire first season of Madame Secretary recently. It’s the only show I watch religiously, on time, when it’s aired. While I realize being a high school principal is not exactly the equivalent to being Secretary of State, I really identify with her struggles to balance work and home, to be seen as a strong woman in a man’s world/job, to work through frustration when others who don’t/can’t see the bigger picture criticize decisions, to dare to be vulnerable when she is supposed to be strong, and to solve countless crises (big and small) on any given day.
Words you live by: I’m not sure I have a true life motto. I have different quotes I go to for different contexts. One of my favorites has always been, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.” (Emerson) Another one I’ve adopted recently came from a man named John Driscoll, who is one of Tim’s dearest friends. He was a school administrator and was working as a principal when he was diagnosed about two years ago with glioblastoma multiforme. It’s a terminal form of brain cancer. He is fighting hard and is anchored by faith and gratitude. I don’t know him well, but I admire him tremendously. He was honored by his own high school, St. John’s Prep, where he was later an administrator. They noted that each morning on the announcements, he would always end his remarks with, “Try hard. Have fun. Be nice.” It’s so simple but genuinely distills everything we each need to do every day. I’ve been using it at work and have it posted on the slides that circulate through our TVs in the cafeteria and the main lobby.
Why did you decide to have children? I don’t know. I don’t feel like it was ever a question for me. I was one of four children, and Tim was one of five. I think both of us just associated being a grown up with getting married and having a family. My entire life was shaped by having had older brothers, and I believe many of my best characteristics were refined through my interactions with my family. Resilience. A sense of humor. Silliness. Love. Gratitude. Giving. I appreciate my family even more now that I am a grown up… it’s so neat to spend time with my siblings and their wives and kids now. As much as I mourn the thought of not having my little kids once their grown, I do look forward to interacting with them as adults.
What was one of the best things you did to prepare for having kids? I think the best thing for me was just talking with Tim. We talked about what we were looking forward to and what we were nervous about. That good communication before Boden was born helped us to support one another when we brought him home.
What is something related to kids you were not at all prepared for? Honestly? How mean I can be. How quickly I can be frustrated and lose my temper with the tiny people I care most about in the world. I work really hard to remind myself that they are only 7/5/3, and they are doing their very best. I wish every memory of theirs that is related to me would be positive and perfect and loving, but I fear that they will have semi-comical (in the future) memories of me being nuts.
What is your parenting philosophy? The catchphrase we use with the boys, who are school aged, is, “You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to try your best.” We try to apply that to just about everything: school work, sports, interactions with one another, chores at home.
Tell us about a lesson you’ve learned since having kids. I’ve got two lessons. First, you will become the reflection of your own parents. It’s just a given. All of the things that drove you crazy about them when you were little, you will come to understand now that you are parents yourselves. Second, kids will do as you do, not always as you say. I see that truth reflected in the behaviors—both the sweet and the cringeworthy—of my kids every day. They learn by watching us, which is magical and terrifying at once.
Tell us about a few of your favorite family traditions. My favorite family traditions are continuations of traditions my mother began with me… reading together at bedtime, carving pumpkins, dying (and hunting for) Easter eggs. One that I particularly love is that we burn our letters to Santa after we write them. We always did this with my mom, and I never questioned it. Of course the smoke carries your wishes to the North Pole, and of course the magic of the place reassembles the letters once they get there. In our first house, we didn’t have a fireplace, so we would bundle the kids up and take them outside to our little fire pit, all of us sheltering the letters from the winter wind as Tim lit them to the sky.
Favorite book(s) to read with or to your kids: The Otis books by Loren Long. They are about the cutest little tractor and the things he gets up to with his pals on the farm. The Bear books by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman. The illustrations are darling, and the stories are really cute. The Elephant and Piggy books by Mo Willem. At first I thought they were annoying and didn’t quite understand the hype, but now that I’ve read them a zillion times and listened to my kids shriek in laughter, I see the draw. Others we’ve been stuck on at times include The Penny, Blueberries for Sal, Corduroy, Harry the Dirty Dog (probably my favorite… I remember it from my own childhood), and Mike Mulligan and his Steamshovel (that’s another one I love from my own childhood). I could go on and on. We have a staggering number of books.
One thing you are doing the same as your parents and one thing you are doing differently: There is much that is the same: sitting for dinner as a family; insisting upon good manners (please, may I, thank you) and good table manners; enforcing an early-ish bedtime; encouraging them to be involved in sports and activities; sharing holiday traditions… As for what’s different, it’s less philosophical than practical. I think Tim and I both are parenting much like our parents did, but there are things that are different because of the changed times, such as our reluctance to just having them go outside and play unattended and out of sight for hours on end, or letting them ride bikes without helmets.
What is your favorite part about having children? Parenting is a tsunami of emotions. I’ve never known such worry, such frustration, such exhaustion or, above all, such love. I think my favorite part, daft though it may sound, is the love. The physical manifestations of it—snuggling them at bedtime or in the morning, feelings their hands in mine, holding their sleeping weight as I carry them to bed, washing them, tickling them, doing Hope’s hair, feeling their feet tucked under my legs as we watch a movie together on the couch, hugging away their hurt feelings or scraped knees—take my breath away. Every night of their lives, I have gone into each of their rooms before I go to bed each night. I listen to their breathing, put my hand on their chests to feel their tiny beating hearts, and kiss their foreheads, thankful each time for the miracle of their lives while whispering my love into their ears. I love hearing them say, “Mommy, I love you so much.” I love it when they run to me at the end of an absence. I love it when I meet their eyes across a room, and they smile. Having children has filled my life with love and gratitude, and that’s a really nice way to live.
One of my favorite lines: “I believe many of my best characteristics were refined through my interactions with my family.” I know exactly what she means, and think the same is true for me!
Thank you, my dear AMOF!!