Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Presence over Fear

At ten I swallowed my fear and timidly climbed the ladder to the high dive. I think I wanted to prove something, not to others, but to myself.  I'm not afraid of heights; that wasn't the source of the fear. I think maybe it was that people might watch.  People always watch the high dive.  There's some risk there.  Some uncertainty.  It's such a long way to fall.  Will the form hold so tightly that there's virtually no splash at all?  Is it a character up there, determined to drop the cannon ball of all cannon balls to douse the lifeguard? Will he be chastised and admonished with curt ear-piercing whistles?  There's always uncertainty, suspense, with the high dive.

As I ascended, I fixated on the slippery ladder.  I imagined the impact of my body on the pavement below if I should fall.  I wondered how much blood there'd be.  Would I die?  At the top, again, my attention was keenly aware of the danger of falling.  I saw flashes of my body sliding off the side of the board, coming to a crushing blow with the medium dive, neck broken, body askew.  I hesitantly teetered to the end and stood there, shocked that the board beneath me wasn't sturdier, more dependable. I tenderly bounced, frigid in the wind.  A voice from below the ladder shouted, "Go! Come on!"  Rushed, embarrassed, I stepped off the edge, legs scissoring like possessed blades, arms flailing.  I came crashing into the water with anything but grace. I burst through the surface, eyes stinging with chlorine, gasping.

I've been thinking about that experience today -- something I haven't thought about in years.  It's either comforting in its familiarity or disappointing in that notion that perhaps we never actually grow out of childhood at all, but it's apt.  So much of my current state of life is like that high dive experience. It's easy to be governed by fear and uncertainty.  But it isn't liberating.  It isn't enjoyable.  It isn't making the most of life.

Had I approached it differently, I might have noticed the strength in my arms and legs as I ascended the ladder.  I might have felt powerful, capable.  I might have noticed the rough sandpaper grip of the rungs -- precautions had been taken, innovation put into action. I was perfectly safe.  Once on the board, I might have noticed the view.  I might have taken in the eyes turned upward in anticipation, eager to watch my experience.  I might have noticed the easy spring of the board, sound, but capable of catapulting me high into the air with just the smallest effort, defying gravity, if only for a moment.  I might have exhilarated in the sensation of body racing through air, free falling, trusting, knowing I'd be gently cradled by the water below. I might have relished the rush as my head emerged from the depths of the water, cool and clean, into the fresh air.  I might have smiled. Laughed.

Instead I was so preoccupied with the fear of what might happen, of the catastrophe that could occur, I wasn't capable of taking in each of the moments.  I missed them.  I neglected to recognize them.  And it's a pity. I still do.  I miss the moments all the time.  I let fear take the helm.

I'm about to take a plunge off another high dive, of sorts. I don't want to be the maniacal leaper --rushed, fearful, uncertain.  I don't want to miss the opportunities to notice, to truly experience and be present.  I've been that ten-year-old self, but it isn't too late. Beginning now, I'm making a conscious effort to be present and take it in. To feel the heat of the pavement, the rough grit of the rungs, the bounce of the board and the wind and the view and the joy and the anticipation.  This time, when I finally take the leap, I want to enjoy every moment -- the ascent, the fall, the reemergence.  The grin.  The rush.

What a beautiful thing to know I can, if I choose.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Grief and Gratitude

I've only experienced this feeling, this enormous grief, one other time in my life.  I was in college and had broken up with my boyfriend of 2 1/2 years. It was my choice.  I loved him deeply, but we weren't right for one another.  I knew that.  He was slower to know it. He begged and pleaded. Surprisingly, I had the courage to say no.

The thing about grief is that it swells and takes you under at unexpected moments. The checkout lane at the grocery store, when you're tucking your kids into bed, on the drive home from work...  And your whole body aches with it, is wracked by it.

This sounds dramatic, I know. But anyone who knows me knows that I don't do anything just a little bit.  I'm all in. Plunging. With abandon. And I've been all in for the last 12 years. I have given hours and tears and laughter and sweat and hope and forgiveness and love.  I've built a foundation. I've built friendships and community.  More than that.  I've built family.  And more than that, too. I've built an identity.  I came into myself there.  Roosevelt has been home.  And I'm leaving.

It's all becoming terribly real. The room is bare. Colleagues, teary eyed, pop in to say goodbye. I'm an emotional person and even I have been caught off guard by the depth of this sadness.  I'm not sure I've grieved to my core since Jon. It sounds silly to chalk up a break-up at 21 and a transfer to a new school as elements of grief -- deep soul-wrenching grief -- but they are, as much as anything. Because both are about a sense of self and identity.  With both, I'd built a future. I tethered myself. Cutting that cord is healthy, I know, but terrifying.  In doing so, I accept the free fall.  I relinquish control and safety and the familiar. And all I can do is hope. I hope I made the right decision.  I hope this isn't a colossal mistake. I hope people will like me. I hope I don't suck at my job. I hope I will build relationships as powerful as those I've built at Roosevelt. I hope it feels like family there too. I hope I don't regret it. I hope that what I've built isn't made of sand.

I have so much gratitude for Roosevelt. It's taught me the value of community.  It's taught me how to use my voice and how to shut up. It's taught me perspective and love. It's taught me compassion. It's taught me confidence and humility. It's taught me heartache. It's taught me strength and perseverance. It's taught me pride. It's taught me hope.

I mourned the end of my relationship with Jon for a long time. The decision for a different future didn't erase the past we shared, it didn't wipe away the love and attachment I had for the future we'd hoped to build together.  It was the right decision. I know this is the same. There will be joy and excitement. There will be laughter and friendship.  Home is where you make it.  I know, realistically, I'll be just fine.  But for now, there's grief.  There's loss. I'm untethering, free falling. I'm trusting, between seismic sobs, that this is right. I know it is.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Expression of Love

People express love in so many different ways.  Some are more guarded.  Some still resign to the adolescent boy approach; they act as if they can't stand the person they love, they tease and taunt. Others are affectionate. There are those who can't hold it in, the words flow and they tell you, again and again and again.  Sometimes it's a combination.

Anyone who knows me knows I love few people in the world like a love a teenage boy.  Don't get me wrong, here, people.  This is not Mary Kay Letourneau love; it's the furthest from it.  Because they're CHILDREN.  No, I love teenage boys because I get a front row seat as they navigate the world, practicing for the kind of men they're going to be.  Teenage girls are more difficult for me.  So much drama.  Such a quintessential gift for making hideously mean faces.  The eye rolling.  Uff.  I don't get that from boys.  They don't hate their mothers like girls do at that age, so they don't give as much push back to a mother-figure.

As I prepare to wrap up the year and start at a new school, I've been so blessed to experience such an outpouring of love from kids.  Each expresses it in unique ways, reflective of who they are and where they are at this point in their lives. Yesterday morning Beyonce and Gabby arrived in my room before school, unplanned.  Each had a small gift for me -- my favorite pastry from La Mie and a box of Hot Tamales.  Later Alice piped up, "I saw you last night at the soccer game."  I told her I didn't see her; she should have come over.  She said, "Yeah. I hid from you... It was cool you were there."  Kids.  Gunner referred to me as Dragon Lady, an odd term of endearment he's taken to.  But the sweetest is Chris.

I had Chris in an English extension course last year.  He's incredibly bright.  I think his home life is a little rocky, but he never wanted to talk about it.  He is in desperate need of love.  He wants hugs all the time. (Again, not in a gross way.) He needs a lot of reassurance. He came in during lunch to chastise me for leaving.  He's planning to take AP Literature and Composition next year.  He signed up because he thought I'd be his teacher. So many kids in that class need assurance and support; they need someone to not only believe in them and challenge them, but to assure them they will be successful, that I'll help them.  They doubt themselves and they fear failure. It's easier to take the less challenging course, but they signed up for the risk because they knew I'd be there for them.  Those are the kids who are taking my departure the hardest.

At any rate, Chris and a couple of his friends came in during lunch.  When I stepped out to heat up my lunch, he jumped on my computer and left me a note. He expressed love in a way that only a teenage boy can.  He typed his thoughts into the google search bar.

There's something poetic in that.  He'd played the mean boy card -- he razzed and lambasted and called me a traitor.  But ultimately he was left searching for a way to communicate that he cares. Enter the Google search bar.  He didn't wait for me to see it.  He told me on the way out the door, "I left you a message on your computer, Ms. Moehlis!  Check Google."

So, love...  I felt it in spades yesterday.  I don't think any other job has the capacity to fill a person with such outpourings of love.  I am lucky that I get my fill of it everyday.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Atmosphere as Self

Spring weather in Iowa vacillates as dramatically as my students' emotions.  As any classroom teacher can attest, weather matters.  It affects our kids. If we're honest, we know it affects us too.

Today the stale air hung heavy.  It was thick, damp.  Molasses. Papers went limp.  Focus, too.  Kids whined and puttered and were slow to begin work (if they began at all).  Everyone was a bit irascible.

I'm keenly aware of how closely weather patterns influence my mood.  Today I internally endured that same thick, stale air.  I was irked to face the reality that I am still holding on to things I'd decided not to hold onto anymore.  I felt trapped under the heavy piles of work that remain, but struggled to mark more than a couple small tasks off my to do list.  I spent long stretches of time feeling a little prickly as I stared off into space listening to music that only exascerbated  my foul mood.  I was unproductive, static.  I hate that.  I desperately needed to be productive today.  I wasn't. Perhaps through osmosis, the tension in the atmosphere seeped into me as a palpable and disquieting force threatening to unleash.

The sky turned a sickly hue of green.  The wind bent trees, snapped trunks, tore limbs.  Finally, the torrents of rain, the pummeling hail, the eeriness, the sirens.  The atmosphere wailed, lashed out. It was scary, the unbridled force of it.  Like a toddler, the universe had a tantrum, made a scene, threw a fit.  It expelled more than anyone could have anticipated, as if drawing from secret reserves of angst. It raged.  And then, worn out, it slinked off.  The demons were expelled, the slate wiped clean. The sun reappeared.  The earth looked greener.  The scent of grass sweeter.  The sky opened up.  A double rainbow appeared.  Temperatures cooled.  The damage was evident, but there was some peace now. Something had been worked out.

The same tensions were mirrored within me.  But I didn't throw a tantrum. I didn't wail or rage.  I endured. I swallowed the desire to throw myself on the floor, to beat my fists and kick my feet at some frustration I couldn't even name, some intangible thing.  Instead, I harnessed.  I turned to my writer's notebook.  I took deep restorative breaths.  I reminded myself that the tension would pass, that I shouldn't give it energy.  I turned to the 5-4-3-2-1 strategy to quiet the storm: name 5 things you see in the room, list 4 sounds you hear, touch 3 things and name them, identify 2 things you smell, name 1 good thing about yourself.  I distracted myself from the chaos, from the thickness of it.  I paused.  I collected myself.

Eventually the winds abate.  The downpour ceases.  The earth glistens in its newness, in its baptism. The storm within, the tension, quiets and passes.  It's only May, after all.

Friday, May 12, 2017

High School Boys

I have loved high school boys for the entirety of my life.  I remember high school boys who were classroom helpers in my elementary school classrooms.  That love wasn't romantic, but it was true. In middle school, my girlfriends and I snipped newspaper announcements from the local paper, curating a ridiculous and slightly stalkeresque scrapbook of the high school boys we loved.  In high school, I loved more boys than I can count.  I've always fallen hard and fast.  Most of them probably never knew.  Several of them knew all too well.

As a teacher, I try hard to appear unbiased, but I would pick a classroom full of boys over a classroom full of girls any day of the week.  Girls.  Uff.  I'm not wired for that.  So. Much. Drama. And it's not all boys.  I'll admit, I have a hard time with a bro, with a frat boy type.  But give me a slightly sensitive boy and I'm on it.  Give me a quirky kid. Maybe it's the boy mom in me.  I don't care how tough a kid is on the surface, they're all mush in the center.  And I'll get to it.

I've been hyper-aware lately of how many kids treat me like a school mom. The running joke in my classroom is that I'm going to bring the troublemaker kid home with me and make him live in my basement, put him on the chore chart, make him turn in his phone to me, tow a hard line of discipline. The kids joke all the time that my own children must hate me because I'm so strict, but I know there are so many kids, boys especially, who want desperately to come home with me.  They want structure.  They want consequences and responsibility.  They want predictability.  They want unconditional love.  And I wish I could bring them home. Two days ago, a kid came up to me after class, shuffling his feet, looking at the floor, and said, "Ms. Moehlis, you know how you joke about how you're going to make me live in your basement and do chores?  Could I?  Come home with you, I mean?" And it broke my heart.  What must it have taken for that kid to be so forward?  To say what he so desperately wanted? Because I wanted, with all of my heart, to say, "Yes, sweetheart."  But I knew I couldn't. You can love them, but you can't take them home.  So I hugged him and said, "No, sweetheart.  I wish I could.  I'm sorry I can't. But I love you. And I want to be here for you in whatever way I can."

His mom's in and out of drug treatment, mostly out.  Her boyfriend isn't kind.  They fight.  He's abusive.  The kid is the primary caretaker for his siblings, four of them.  It's hard to concentrate on school when he has so much responsibility in his life.  And it isn't fair.  He spends every afternoon in my classroom. He and the "homies," as they refer to themselves, shoot baskets in my room.  They laugh and razz each other.  They don't want to go home.  I get it.

Today on their way out, one of the boys lingered.  He gave me a handmade card.  It said, "Happy Mother's Day, School Mom."  Inside he wrote, "Sunday is Mother's Day, and I know you're not my mom, but at school, you feel like my mom.  Thanks for loving me, even when I'm annoying and I don't bring a pencil to class and I don't try very hard.  You're a good mom and a good teacher. Thanks for being there for me. I'd gladly live in your basement, even though you seem strict af. I'm lucky you're in my life."  So he essentially swore in his Mother's Day card, but he told the truth.

We don't pick our kids and we certainly don't pick their circumstances, but I feel lucky that my heart is full and open.  I feel lucky that I love the hard kids, mostly the boys, the easiest.  They need it the most, I think. I'm lucky to be a boy mom -- to teach them kindness and the importance of emotion and truth and communication and love.  These are the immeasurable benefits of being a classroom teacher and the burdens, too.  We can show them love, but, at the end of the day, we have to send them home and hope the love we've given can counteract whatever they may face there.  We have to trust that what we can give is enough.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Death of the Toad

The sun set hours ago, but I made a commitment to running, so out into the night I go.  I need it: the forward momentum, the solitude, the pounding heart, the reminder of what a body can do -- mind and heart and lungs and muscle and tendons and abdomen and arms-legs-feet propelling forward in unison, each contributing. Knowing I'm still healing, I choose gravel over concrete.

In the darkness the moon looms, nearly full, the air perfumed with spring. At peace, I stretch, grateful that the body knows how to release, to elasticize, to let go in ways that are often so difficult for me to do in the day-to-day.

The atmosphere is tense -- the rain bides its time.  Flashes of lightning reflect on the water.  The path is darker than I remember, but I persist.  The playlist is a shuffle.  U2 songs keep coming into rotation.  I hate U2.  Fucking Bono. He's such an arrogant ass.  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Philanthropy or whatever.  God, I hate that fucking guy.  I curse my husband for downloading fucking U2. The peace and gratitude I'd felt in the parking lot moments ago is rapidly dissipating.

A firm believer in signs, I should turn around.  I don't.  The darkness deepens, the cacophony of the bullfrog choir is unnerving. Ripples of fear begin to undulate.  Now they're waves.

It's reaaaallly dark.  There's no one else here.  There's obviously a murderer lying in wait for me. I wonder if my murder will end up on Dateline NBC? Why are those frogs so loud? What was that thrash in the woods?!?  It's really, really fucking dark. Why did I think it was a good idea to run this trail alone this late? People don't wait in the woods to just gently murder a passerby.  That murderer is going to torture me, for sure.  No one but the damn bullfrogs will hear my screams.  What if I'm too panicked to even scream?  What if I go mute?  When the sicko is done with me, he'll probably toss my dead body in the lake.  I'm going to bloat.  Fish will eat my flesh.  There's no way I'll be able to have an open-casket.  I'm so fucking scared!  Should I turn around?  No, idiot.  Don't turn around.  You're halfway around the damn lake already.  Holy shit. This part is really dark.  Turn around.  Turn around! You are so dumb.  It's a trail in the woods.  There is nothing to be afraid of.  There is no murderer here.  You may encounter a nudist.  Nudists aren't murderers.  You're fine.  You're fine!

I round the bend and the sky widens above me again, a clearing in the forest. The light of the moon spills onto the trail.  There before me the path is covered by a flock, a gaggle, a school, a swarm of toads. And they're hopping, hundreds of them. This is Biblical. I should have known with the U2.  I should have known with the darkness and the mounting fear.  I should have turned around. I didn't. I awkwardly zig and zag through the plague of toads, frightened, disgusted, confused.  Bad omen.  Bad omen.

It happens.  I've done it.  My foot and the full weight of my body crush down on an innocent, unblinking toad. He's not small.  I guess maybe I would have expected him to scream.  To squeal.  To ribbit or croak.  Nothing could have prepared me for the sound that emanated there in the soft spilling light of the moon.  Slow motion.  The pop of the toad's exploding body echoes off the water, off the trees.  His insides expel with enormous velocity. The demise of the toad under me.  Friends, brothers, neighbors are splattered with the guts of the murdered toad.  They bear witness. The trauma.  They're going to need therapy.  I scream in a way I didn't know I could, wrought with disgust and guilt and fear and regret, but mostly disgust.  I cry and whimper from the shock; I just extinguished a life.  No. Extinguished is too gentle, too euphemistic.  Eviscerated.  I eviscerated that poor little creature. Literally.  No euphemism there. I feared murderers.  I became a murderer. The depravity! And the guts.  The guts are on my shoe.  I'm a killer.  The evidence is damning.  I felt the literal life seep (jet, really) from his body. The moon illumines the carnage.  The toads stare.

I turn.  I sprint back to the parking lot, a trail of toad guts on the path.  I can't outrun the deed. Fucking Bono croons: You're gonna sleep like a baby tonight / In your dreams everything is alright/ Tomorrow dawns like someone else's suicide / You're gonna sleep like a baby tonight.  Murder, Bono. Not suicide.  MUR-DER.  Of course Bono is there.  Of course he is. That asshole with his stupid sunglasses and his arrogance and his swagger and his judgment.  It was an accident! I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!

And here is the parking lot.  The moon is veiled in clouds, unable to look me in the eye.  The fragrance of blooms and grass still hang in the air amid the tension of rain.  The bullfrogs croak. Veils and fragrance and impending tears that fall from clouds and a choir of bullfrogs who send out a mourning song: a funeral for the death of the toad.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Something Like Serendipity

Stories. Sometimes the storyteller spins a yarn so enthralling we're held on edge. Other stories share pivotal lessons, but if the timing isn't right or the storyteller fails to capture the audience, the story and the lesson fall flat.  The stories I encountered today held some powerful lessons.

The first was in church.  Father Mark offered a perspective on sheep and shepherds I hadn't considered before.  For most, the notion of being a sheep is negative.  No one wants to be associated with a mindless and blind follower, indistinct from the flock.  But sheep don't blindly follow.  As Father explained, a shepherd opens the gate for his flock, he calls them by name, he cares for them and ensures their safety, he leads them to water and watches over them.  There is no need for a good shepherd to count his flock because he knows his flock, he knows if a sheep is missing because he knows each by name. We've accepted the false idea that sheep will blindly follow anyone.  That's not so.  Sheep follow their shepherd; they heed his voice, no one else's.  We may belong to a flock, but it doesn't mean we aren't also independent and unique and named.

The caution here is not to try to undo our "sheepness," but to be cognizant of the shepherds we choose to follow.  How many times in my life have I heeded the call of a shepherd who was not kind, was not good, did not care about my well-being?  But I followed the shepherd anyway.  Father Mark gave me pause today: Who are the shepherds in our lives?  Whose call do I follow?  Am I following a good shepherd or a false one?  A shepherd watches over, nurtures, and tends; he doesn't merely herd.

The concept was interesting. It made me think.  But then he hit me with a whammy.  Sometimes the shepherd is within us, not an outside force.  The shepherd might be the voice in your head -- your thoughts.  Is that internal shepherd kind? Does he nurture you? Care for you? Tend to you? Keep you safe from harm? Love you? Is the internal shepherd good? Maybe the sermon wasn't revolutionary.  But it was a story that found me at the right moment.  The parting message was this: Sheep aren't blind.  They are individuals.  They are called by name. They choose who they will follow.  Choose a good shepherd.

If I'd heard that homily, that story, 10 years ago, it wouldn't have resonated.  I probably wouldn't have even paid attention.  I'd be counting down the sections left before Mass was over: Introductory Rites, Penitential Rite; Gloria; Collection, Liturgy of the Word, First Reading, Responsorial Psalm, Second Reading, Gospel, Homily, Profession of Faith, Prayer of the Faithful, Liturgy of the Eucharist, Gifts, Lord's Prayer, Communion, Blessing and Dismissal. There's comfort in ritual; you know how much is left.

There was a long stretch in there when I didn't choose God. And, to be clear, I'm not some crazy born-again full-fledged practicing Catholic.  The Catholic Church and I have a great number of unresolved issues, but we've kind of reached a place of acceptance and love, in spite of our differences (kind of like a brother you didn't choose who's your polar opposite and he drives you crazy most of the time, but you share DNA and upbringing so you love him anyway).  We attend Mass most Sundays.  I want my boys to grow up with a religion to turn to if they need it, if they want it.  In the interest of honesty, I still haven't learned the new translation of the Nicene Creed (I sort of just stumble through it and trail off a lot).  But I do love stories and, in the Catholic Church, they are bountiful and familiar and new all at the same time.  In college I worked on an organic farm in the summers.  The farmer I worked for told me that there would come a time when I would want God, when I'd need faith and religion.  He said maybe it would be the birth of a child or the loss of a parent or an illness.  He told me that he didn't know a lot -- he didn't finish high school, he didn't go to college.  He told me that he knows only three things for sure:

1. If you plant a seed and give it water and sunlight it will grow.

2. It's better to break your back doing something you love and believe in than to sacrifice yourself for something you don't.  Don't worry about money.  That part works itself out.

3. Everyone reaches a point in his/her life when he/she needs something beyond himself/herself.  God is patient and forgiving and He'll be there when you want Him.

Farmer Bill was right.  Stories.  There are always stories, if we choose only to listen.

The instructor in my Sunday night yoga class has an uncanny ability to craft a class focus that seems to meet me exactly where I am, to offer exactly what I need.  Much of it is rooted in story. I'm the poster-child for a Type A personality.  And I don't think it's a bad thing to be Type A, but it's important to recognize both the strengths and weaknesses we A-types possess.  Tonight she shared an old and familiar anecdote about catching monkeys in India as a way to help us think about detachment.

To catch a monkey, you need only drop a handful of nuts into a jar with a small opening, large enough only for the monkey to slip his hand through. The monkey puts his hand into the jar, grabs the nuts, and then finds that he can't get his fist out through the opening. If the monkey would just let go of the nuts, he could escape. But he won't.

She encouraged us to think about the things that are trapping us and to simply let go of them so we can remove our hands from the jar.  It reminds me of a story from the Bhagavad Gita. Krishna explains to Arjuna that detachment is doing the right thing for its own sake -- it needs to be done-- without worrying about success or failure.  I believe Eliot borrowed this advice in "Four Quartets": "For us, there is only the trying.  The rest is not our business."  But not worrying about success or failure?  How?

Moon pose featured prominently tonight.   I hate moon pose.  I suck at moon pose.  I struggle with balance.  Even when I get it, I'm wobbly, uncertain, far from confident.  And I can't help but look around the room at these other yogis who are dominating moon pose.  So, it comes as no surprise that this might be a pose my instructor would want to draw upon as we focused on the art of detachment. It's not easy to detach from failure, from what doesn't come easily.  And I was struggling, wobbling, losing my breath, in poor form, and frustrated, but the instructor stood near me, placed her hand on the small of my back, and whispered, "Just open your hand.  Take your hand out of the jar." And I took a breath. I attempted to release some of the tension.  I softened my jaw.  And it was better.  Not great, but better. Closer.  I tried, to borrow Eliot.

There was an element of serendipity today with these stories.  They layer rather nicely, I think.  Both require us to know ourselves. Both remind us that we have the option to choose. How often do I recognize that I'm following a bad shepherd, that I'm unhappy and frustrated, when all I need to do is open my hand and choose a better voice, a better shepherd, a better path?  It requires strength and truth to break free of negative habits.  It requires assessment and honesty.  But, ultimately, it requires action. So I'm thinking about that as I move into this week -- I'm working to intentionally seek good shepherds and to let go of the snares that trap me.  The stories have brought me here.

Friday, May 5, 2017

May (in Education) is the Cruelest Month

I've never been a paper chainer -- you know, the people who make a countdown to some momentous day by looping a bunch of paper links together. And I take no issue with those who are, but I think I've always been more of the live in the now type.  I try to accept things as they are without pushing too hard to transform them into something else.  But panic is beginning to set in. I don't know if a paper chain would be a boon or a burden.

I know we say February is the hardest month in education, but I'm beginning to believe May is equally painful.  Its proximity to summer allows us to conveniently forget that.  I always accomplish the necessary items on the to-do list, but knowing that doesn't stop me from feeling like I'm going under right now.

I love teaching seniors at every point of the year but now.  They took the AP exam on Wednesday and they are checked out.  They showed up to class today utterly unprepared and nonplussed.  I probably should have put my foot down, been angry, scolded them.  Instead, I rose the white flag and surrendered.  Just go outside and read, I acquiesced.  I let them win.  I couldn't muster the energy to fight them today.  We have 4 more classes together.  And I'm sad.  May, man.  I want them to work hard until the end.  I want to hold on to them equally as much as I want to push them out. All they can see is the future.  They've been paper-chaining since September.  I can't fault them that, but it makes the days harder when they're already a foot out the door, more consumed with prom and the senior squirt gun fight and graduation parties than the work we still have left.  They don't have any time for heavy literature.

Today I've started 20 different tasks but haven't accomplished a single one.  I graded half a stack of essays.  Then I picked up another class set.  I sent emails to 3 different people to begin momentum on a big undertaking.  None of them have responded.  Because it's May. But I can't move forward until they provide the information I need.  I spent entirely too much time on the phone trying to move another task forward. Ultimately, I accomplished nothing; I wasted my planning period.  Then I got wrapped up in planning the Retirement Tea and a baby shower for a colleague, because of course I'm the Social Committee Chair. (It seemed like such a good idea in August.)  I nearly forgot a lunch meeting. The day has been both interminable and a race.

Likely because I was feeling a bit overwhelmed, I then became consumed with the task I've been dreading more than any other: packing up my classroom.  Sure, there's the emotional element of it; leaving this beautiful classroom where I've spent the better part of the last 11 years is like saying goodbye to an old friend.  But it isn't even that.  I can't even get sappy about it yet.  It's the realization that I have so.much.stuff.  I've worked hard to cultivate and grow my classroom library.  I have 22 shelves of books.  I began packing them today, mostly so that I can see some physical progress and feel like I've accomplished something.  I've emptied 4 shelves of books now, barely a dent. They filled 4 boxes.  Yep.  A shelf of books equals a box.  And the enormity of 22 boxes of books is a heavy thing -- figuratively and literally.   And that's just the classroom library. But I've been given my eviction notice.  So on top of ensuring all the papers are scored and the grades are updated and finalized, I also have to be out of the room.  The key's due by 3:00 p.m. on May 31st.  May's hard enough anyway. This adds a whole new layer.

But then I remember it's Friday and the sun is shining.  I know that this too shall pass.  The work will get done.  The miraculous thing about deadlines is that somehow we always find a way to meet them. Moment by moment, breath by breath, link by link.