The Dream of Summer

8128300371_6c295c424eIn the distance, I hear laughter…hearty, carefree laughter.

The laughter melds into the breaking of the waves, the call of the gulls.

It intertwines with the rush of the breeze and the smell of salt in the air.

It is the tonic of summer, and I want to drink it in.

Then I see her, sitting casually in a beach chair, feet in the cooling afternoon sand.

Her hair dances with the wind as she gazes, unconcernedly, at the fiery orange of the setting sun.

She is the picture of relaxation.

She is my dream of summer.

The one I hold on to through all the paperwork, lesson planning, grading, advising, worrying, and mothering.

But now it’s several weeks into summer, and I have yet to greet her.

Which, I imagine, seems strange.

No kids.

No grading.

No planning.

So what’s the hold up? What’s standing in my way of carefree afternoons and picturesque sunsets?

Well…life.

As every additional year of teaching draws to a close, I wait with bated breath for the feeling of release, the easing of a burden.

And every year, I find the first few weeks of summer packed to the brim with appointments and responsibilities. Broken things needing to be fixed. Affairs to be handled. Illnesses that descend the minute schedules open up.

And the weight is tremendous.

It’s as though everything crashes down at once, and I find myself racing around, wondering where that carefree woman went, and why I’m fighting nausea in a rapidly-warming house.

And it’s exhausting.

The other day, my husband and I looked at one another, and weariness looked back at both of us.

Sure, life is difficult, but run-you-into-the-ground difficult? Shouldn’t there be some breathing room? Some escape?

The leaking A/C says no.

The infection screams no.

The car repair whispers no.

The finances chorus no.

An off-key chorus drowning out summer’s serenade.

And it can’t be ignored.

So, with a deep breath, we book the appointments, and start working through the chaos, one strand at a time.

Hoping for quiet.

Praying for peace.

Realizing that these are elusive and unstable, often hidden behind the louder elements of life.

So when we find them, as we have this afternoon, we must let them wash over us, drowning out the chaos, if only briefly.

The noise will return.

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But in this moment, there’s only the rush of the breeze through the palm fronds, the smell of rain in the air, and a periwinkle sky.

Sure, it may not be my dream of summer. But it’s a beautiful view from my much cooler living room.

And right now, it’s just the escape I need.


photo credit: Semitropic I via photopin (license)

photo credit: New moon via photopin (license)

Passing Through Silence

It’s been nearly a year of silence.

In that time, I’ve offered no social witticisms or criticisms.
I’ve shared no neatly-packaged epiphanies.

Nor do I have any to offer today.

Instead, I have only words to offer. A string of words that has been continually swirling around in my head for the past week:

“When the way comes to an end, then change—having changed, you pass through.” –I Ching

 

Placed in the context of our class novel, these words were clear and bold. They reassured many of my students who had been anxious about high school. They gave me the opportunity to present change as positive, to urge them to embrace the young adults into which they will grow.

Perhaps, more importantly for me, they reminded me of a promise I made nearly a year ago, a promise that changed everything about the way I teach…

I promised to place my students’ well-being before a test score, to embrace their quirks and accept their flaws, and to let them know that they meant so much more to me than my VAM score.

This change allowed me to pass through the bureaucracy of the education system and to open my eyes to my students’ true needs. In the process, it renewed my faith in the power of being a teacher.

I honestly believe that my students left my classroom this year knowing that I loved and accepted them.

I’m really going to miss this group. Sure, some were difficult, but the majority of my students were incredible. Together, we navigated new standards, new tests, new expectations, and came out victorious.

More importantly, together we traversed the rocky, uneven terrain of daily life. I tried to be the one who listened carefully and dried falling tears. They were the ones who helped me find a sense of normalcy after my mom passed away. In a way, they kept me grounded, when everything else seemed surreal.

Now that they’re gone, and only an empty classroom remains, the words begin swirling again.

“When the way comes to an end, then change…”

It’s easier said than done. But I imagine you already knew that.

Empty desks remind me that I will have to start over next year, and the incoming class has a less-than-pleasant reputation. I’m sure there will be many changes with which to contend next year.

But change is often the only way forward. And so, we continue to walk that narrow balance beam, desperately trying to adapt and meld old with new.

The philosophy that made this year so rewarding stretches out like a path before me. With luck, it will guide me through another year.

The words continue to whirl around me. With luck, they will help me find ways to break the other stretches of silence in my life, the ones for which I have not yet found words.

For now, they are enough.

Escaping Facebook

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Yesterday, for the first time in a week, I opened the Facebook app on my phone and began scrolling.

I checked my notifications.

Caught up on my friends’ lives.

Aimlessly scrolled.

And then deleted the app for a second time.

I was as surprised as anyone. I told myself I’d take a week away from the draw of Facebook in an effort to limit my obsessive timeline scrolling. But after feeling the freedom that comes from not worrying about status updates or notifications, returning to Facebook was a great deal less enjoyable than I expected. I imagined feeling comfort at being “reconnected.” But all I felt was the pressure to catch up and “participate” by liking and commenting on posts.

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Please don’t think that I’m disinterested in my friends’ lives. I genuinely care for their well-being, and I’m curious about their experiences. But the cost has become too great as of late. I’ve let the pressure to be connected and up-to-date build to the point that I feel forced to keep up with Facebook “news.”

Until this week, I didn’t realize how much I’ve let Facebook distract me. I used to spend every spare moment on it, always afraid I’d miss something.

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But this week I accepted that I don’t need to know what everyone is doing all the time. In fact, I feel saner if I don’t. Consequently, I had more time to focus on things I do need to keep up on, like grading papers, planning lessons, connecting with family, and cleaning my home. Instead of clicking on Facebook while my computer loaded or the oven heated, I looked up new recipes, caught up on world news, or drank in a few moments of unscheduled peace.

It was lovely.

For the first time in ages, I enjoyed the freedom of leaving my phone in one room as I made my way to another.

Honestly, I feel more centered, more capable of focusing. As an active proponent of living consciously, I believe this is a step in the right direction for me.

I still see the value in Facebook as a tool to connect friends and family, and I have not deleted my account completely. But I have accepted that I am happier without Facebook as a part of my daily routine.

With this realization, came the desire to keep Facebook off my phone. So, unlike the first time, I felt no apprehension when I confirmed my desire to delete the app that has eaten up so much of my time.

Oh, I’m sure I’ll check in at some point.

But it feels wonderful to say I’m not sure when that will be.

Daydream

 

photo credit: Scott Beale via photopin cc
photo credit: Viktor Hertz via photopin cc
photo credit: Mark J P via photopin cc

You Are Welcome Here

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I’d like to begin by apologizing for the lack of a blog last week. The past two weeks have been a complete whirlwind of gluing, stapling, and syllabus-making. All leading up to today…the first day of the new school year.

It’s funny how much preparation goes into a classroom. What seems like it should take two days to decorate and equip, really takes six because every detail matters. This year the details seemed even more important because it was my first school year with a new philosophy.

In years prior, I focused on efficiency. How could I streamline everything so that I could get the most done in the shortest amount of time? In my defense, I feel every year’s added responsibilities and expectations of teachers are partly to blame for making this a common educational philosophy. In response to this pressure, I spent the minimum amount of time necessary throwing up mis-matching, educational posters and random classroom adornments. The result was less than visually pleasing, but it passed as a decorated classroom, and I quickly moved on to more demanding tasks like analyzing my students’ past test scores and trying to develop lessons to meet the county’s ever-changing standards.

This year, however, I was on a mission to change my approach. After my transformative experience last school year, I vowed to make my classroom a space where students felt safe and comfortable. I wanted it to be a clean, bright, inviting space.

So I began with my physical environment.

I left my tattered posters in the closet.

I framed things.

I installed more group workspaces.

I brought in nature with plants and wide open windows.

I focused on creating an environment that would send a positive message:
You are welcome here.

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It took over a week to decorate. But the effect was exactly what I wanted. I can feel it every time I walk into my classroom. The words greet me at the door:
You are welcome here.

It’s my hope that these words will reinforce the barrier that I’ve tried to create between the political bureaucracy that’s taken over education and how we approach learning in my classroom.

It was in this spirit that I found myself repeating my convictions to every class today:
What we do in here matters.

I want them to believe that. I want them to embrace it.

Not because an end of course exam says so. But because right now they are determining how they will communicate with the rest of the world. And more than anything, I want to give them the tools to speak confidently, convincingly, and in a grammatically correct manner (still an English teacher). I want them to know that I take them seriously, and they should, too.

I want them to know they are welcome to be themselves.

My walls are the first step.

Hopefully, I can do the rest.

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Accepting When It’s Time to Let Go

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An errant feather.

A stray bit of seed.

The ding of a toy bell.

The chirp of another bird…not mine.

It takes only the smallest reminder to bring forth a wave of emptiness…each time.

And yet, the words for tonight’s blog have been with me all week:

It was his time to let go. Now, it is my time to let him go.

But after sixteen years of his proud, exuberant personality, I’m having a great deal of trouble letting him go.

Because I’m reconciling with the fact that I’ll never again see all four ounces of him march down the hallway as if on a mission. Or watch him walk right up to a thirty-five pound dog and nip him on the nose. Or perch on my book and lean over as if carefully reading upside down. (He was an unspoken fan of Jane Austen’s work.)

He was the embodiment of a big bird in a little lovebird’s body, and I adored him for it.

Now, it is too quiet in the house. No one chirps or rings bells in greeting. And every time I go to talk to him, I encounter only the emptiness that accompanies loss.

It was his time, and I must let him go.

I remember being afraid of these words nearly a decade ago as I stood in my parents’ back yard, listening to him chirp delightedly from a neighbor’s tree, several houses away. While I was cleaning the summer room, he had flown out and decided to visit with some of the local birds. Given the size and distance of the tree, I knew then that there was a possibility I’d never see him again, that he’d abscond with his new friends and spend the rest of his life in the trees.

But he didn’t. Instead, he flew back to me, unceremoniously landing on my head and remaining there as I proceeded to his cage.

I distinctly remember reveling in the fact that he could have left me that day, and I would have had to let him go.

But he chose to stay with me.

And now I can’t completely let him go.

I realized this the other day as I selected a new fabric for my classroom bulletin board, and I was reminded of it yesterday as I carefully anchored the fabric to the panel.IMG_0390

Stepping back, I couldn’t help but smile at the array of birds gracing my classroom wall. Suddenly, I felt less alone.

IMG_0391It was then that I knew he had once again flown back to me.

Somehow, I’d managed to both let go and hold on.

And while this doesn’t erase the emptiness created by his physical absence, it does ease the hurt of losing a life-long friend.

Released, but never forgotten.

Goodbye, Fawkes.

 

Quiet Mornings

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It’s early morning on the last full day of vacation.

We’ve showered.

We’ve consumed breakfast.

And returned to our room.

Except for the woosh of an efficient fan and the slight rattle of an antique air grate, it’s silent.

But it’s not an uncomfortable silence. For it has nothing to do with dissent or frustration.

It is a mutually-appreciated silence.

Anyone who knows us will readily attest to the fact that we are not morning people. We don’t have much to say in the early hours, and we rarely display any kind of recognizable exuberance before noon. Even my students learn very quickly that I’m not to be tested until at least 10:30.

This, however, doesn’t mean that I resent being awake early in the morning. No, I truly enjoy the cooler hours before the sun begins scorching the earth, and I love the calm that pervades the air before the commuters begin their morning treks.

For my husband and me, it is an opportunity for peace before the demands of the day begin.

When it comes to vacation, this is a luxury we gladly embrace.

While many devoted travelers set schedules and wake up early to enact them, we choose a quiet peace. Sure, we’ll see the sights, but later in the day and at a much more leisurely pace.

Our mornings will be spent in an unspoken agreement of quiet reading and sipping coffee.

An onlooker might assume we are ignoring one another, but he couldn’t be further from the truth. For I have found that over time, my husband and I have developed a sensitivity toward one another that requires no words. We might be reading different texts on separate couches, but we’re still connected in the experience.

This understanding works well for us because we’re independent people who need solitude just as much as we need our date nights.

It concerns me that our society promotes the idea that couples have to do everything together, have the same hobbies, like the same television shows, attend the same pottery classes, and read the same books in order to be considered truly in love. The media suggests that having a clone for a partner is considered romantic despite the fact that it’s impossibly unrealistic.

Individuals, even ones in relationships, need independent pursuits. It has been my experience that those who can embrace this instead of trying to cover it up are the happiest.

Which is why I’ve been able to write this down while contentedly sipping my coffee on my last day of vacation. Thank goodness for quiet mornings.

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