Family First

As a school administrator there have been many times when I have encouraged those I supervise to put their family first. As a principal, I covered teachers’ classrooms so they could slip out to visit their own child’s classroom for a special event.  As a human resources administrator, I approved personal time so employees could accompany their child as they moved to college for the first time. As a superintendent, I strive to protect educators from feeling like they have to be available to students and parents 24/7.

Over the past 25 years, I have not always modeled what I encourage. I have sent my wife to attend parent/teacher conferences alone. I missed moving my son into the dorms his freshman year of college. I said, “I just can’t this year,” when my youngest asked me to be a Watch D.O.G.S. ( Dads of Great Students) volunteer at his school. I look back, with regret on what my own family has sacrificed so I could serve other families.

I write this blog today because in the past three weeks, my family’s life has been forever changed, and I feel it is important to share our story so people can understand why I am working to give myself permission to put my family first.

Wednesday, August 26, my wife had a laparoscopic surgery which resulted in a cancer diagnosis. Two days later, we received a more specific diagnosis of peritoneal mesothelioma. As we spent Saturday, August 29 wrapping our minds around this news, our son Calhoun experienced a health crisis leading to an ambulance ride to Rochester, and at 3:00 am Sunday, August 30, the pediatric ICU physician told me Calhoun was a type I diabetic. We spent the next three days at Saint Mary’s Hospital receiving a crash course in managing type I diabetes.

Cal was discharged at about 7:00 pm Tuesday, September 1. We drove home from Rochester, and gave my mother-in-law a quick tutorial in how to check blood sugar and administer insulin injections. This quick training was necessary because she would be managing Cal’s first day home as a type I diabetic, because Carla had to be back in Rochester for her first oncology appointment at 6:45 am Wednesday, September 2.

We slept for a few hours and then headed out for our return trip to Mayo. After checking in, Carla and I sat in the 10th floor waiting room of the Gonda Building providing FaceTime coaching for Calhoun’s first at-home blood sugar check and insulin injection. While Cal did have to say, “no that’s not right Granny,” in the end, grandma was successful.

After the appointment, Carla and I got back in the car to head home to Decorah. As we were on our way home, we stopped along the way at a highway 52 roadside parking area with a canoe/kayak launch on the Root River. This felt like the first moment we could actually breath and talk in days. We spent about an hour sitting on the bank of the river processing all that had happened over past five days. We cried.

Since that day, I have added things to my calendar. I have added appointments with Calhoun’s diabetic dietician, and his endocrinologist. I have added Carla’s chemotherapy appointments. I have also added a couple vacation days so Carla and I can take a trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to experience the fall colors.

I am incredibly grateful to our school board members and to my co-workers who have encouraged me to put my family first, and to take this time. I am also grateful to my wife, Carla, and my children, Savannah, Will, and Calhoun who understand how hard it is for me to turn my educator brain off. For 25 years, their grace, forgiveness, and willingness to share me with whatever school district I serve has been amazing.

I share this blog today to let people know that as a husband, father, and superintendent, I am a work in progress. In every aspect of my life, I am working to figure out my new normal.