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By Kate Cicchelli, Co-Founder and Principal, Bennett Day School
I had twins, four days apart. My first baby was a healthy 7lb., baby girl. My second baby was slightly larger, 5,000 sq. feet and filled with more than 30 children. Was this a modern miracle? Possibly, but it’s not what you think. I am a single parent and principal of an independent, progressive Pre-K to 8th grade school in downtown Chicago and both birthing experiences have been a labor of love.
Funny enough, it was my move out of the classroom at a well established school and into an administrative role at Bennett Day School–a new school in the early stages of planning– that brought the stability which allowed me to envision myself as a parent. My new job was inspiring, all-consuming, and liberating. We were writing the family handbook, meeting teachers, and assembling teams, and in planning for the school, I gained vision for the rest of my life. While the experts say there’s no perfect time to have a baby, I knew I had found the right moment. What better time to make a life-changing decision than when you’re in the process of making another?
But becoming a mom wasn’t exactly a shoo-in for me. I was 39 and single, and either carrying or adopting were looming challenges. Still, I pursued the path to parenthood with the same vigor I put into my career. Much like the team of experienced educators I assembled to refine our school vision and curriculum, I also assembled “Team Babymaker,” my mom, my sister, and two close friends, who were on call for appointments and planning. I scheduled an appointment with my gynecologist to determine if my eggs were viable, and found a fertility doctor. Just in case, I also found an adoption agency, worked on my adoption story, and kept busy attending seminars on family structures.
Twelve months later, after five failed fertility treatments and no call from the adoption agency, my final IVF attempt was successful. The pregnancy took, I put my adoption journey on hold, and suddenly everything seemed to fast-forward.
While I spent my days ordering floor tiles for the school, unwrapping all the “stuff” that would complete each classroom and discussing the dress code, the length of the school day, and our policies around holidays, I spent my nights assembling a crib and perfecting nursery decor. In both cases, I was trying to nurture the ideal spaces for developmental growth and transformative learning. Each night, I came home too tired to worry, but with just enough energy to wash onesies in Dreft, and lie on the floor with my feet up on the couch trying to get my stubborn breech baby to flip over (which received zero cooperation).
After three years of planning, collaboration, stress, joy, and innovation, the DCFS representative walked through the newly opened doors of Bennett Day School on the morning of June 11, 2014 for the first time. All our hard work had culminated in this moment, and five anxious hours later, we had good news: It’s a school!
Four days later, on June 14, 2014, Bea was born, and my life exploded again with opportunity and joy.
Over a year later, I know I am a better mother because of the work I do. I try to teach Bea to love what she does, to seek what she wants from life, and to find the people who can help her make that happen. Now I have Bea, the love of my life, and Bennett Day, the professional opportunity of a lifetime. I go to work every day ready for the challenges. Every day isn’t perfection, but I’m not interested in perfection. I like the mess.
Kate Cicchelli is Co-founder, Principal and Chief Academic Officer of Bennett Day School in Chicago, and a single parent to her daughter, Bea. In addition to teaching, Kate has served as an educational consultant for local, national, and international initiatives ranging from school design and community leadership to curriculum development for schools across the globe.