Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Burn and Release

My soul craves ritual. I have seasonal rites of passage that must be observed, and the interruption of one can lead to chaos. For example, I had a stomach virus on New Year’s’ Eve last year, and I still write 2008 on all my checks. Every year on the last day of school or the night before, I have a Burning and Release Ceremony. It involves candles, incense, matches, and watermelon margaritas. I say a word or two about each kid, or about groups of kids (such as “the Mean Girls” or the “Lost Boys”). I light a candle for that person as I talk about him/her/them. Some people have bigger candles than others. If I’ve experienced great pain in a year, or I’ve deeply connected to someone, or I’ve tried and failed with someone, they get a bigger candle. A longer speech. A deeper severing of ties. I have to do it. I can’t carry all of them along with me from year to year. If I did, I wouldn’t have any room for the new ones, and that wouldn’t be fair for anyone. I am not a perfect teacher, and I don’t write this to play the Hero card or the Martyr card. I wish, sometimes, that teachers could just be like every other job – that the most skilled would be best paid, that the goals could be specific and measurable, and that negotiations could be pursued for vacation time. (I want to go to be able to go to Disneyworld in January!) These are not necessarily popular views.

I have many weaknesses as a teacher. I’m easily distracted, slow to return grades, preoccupied with other jobs, sometimes. But when I’m on, I’m on. When I am invested and in the flow, I help kids learn. I am still so humbled by that, not one bit lessened after this, my fourteenth year. When I was finishing college and living with Ben and Elise in Rolling Green, I prayed for this. I wanted to be a teacher with my whole heart and soul, and even though it was so challenging to get there, I always knew that eventually, I’d have to be a teacher, and I’d have to do a good job. My first class ever, the Dillon/Amy/Nicholas/Etc. class, taught me that I was allowed to love them. I was allowed to just be myself, and not adopt some Teacher Persona just because I was supposed to. It was safe to just open my heart, be real, and by doing that, I might be able to convince some of them that it’s worth being. Whatever they are is worth being, and that their tribe is out there. As I taught, I learned that if I was going to teach that, I had to be that, too.

All of that “realness” all the time is freaking exhausting. Draining. Energizing and draining at the same time. And so, at just the very end of the year, I Burn and Release. I sat on my back porch tonight after grading my last Portrait Project – the personal reflections of a boy whose mother died when he was six, whose best friend moved last year, who had a wounded little heart and a flock of angels on his shoulders all the time. I watched the swallows, and the bats, and felt that loosing in my chest begin. That first breath of summer. In Tuck Everlasting, which I teach religiously to every class, the author says life is a wheel, with the first week of August hanging motionless and hot at the very tip top. I am on the edge of that…the cusp of languid, spacious, dreamy, slow, my favorite stops on the wheel. Yes, there’s my camp. Yes, there are still children to discipline, and daughters to discipline, and a house to clean and a basement to declutter. But I have space in my spirit to do it. I release the ones that cling to me, knowing that some of them will never leave…Ashley and Sarah, the twins, Noah, Dillon, Jimmy…some always linger, and I value that. But leaving a little more space for my children, for my husband, for my own voice is what I value more. I think that’s how it should be.

Welcome, Sweet Summertime.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Top Ten

I just found a blog site that’s full of people’s Top Ten Lists. Anyone can pick the top ten…anything, and just write them down and explain them. Top Ten Summer Fruits. Top Ten Things to do Before I Die. Top Ten Reasons I like Taylor. Top Ten Books that Made Me Cry. Top Ten Reasons I’ll Never Forgive My Mother. (These are all real ones, by the way. I didn’t make these titles up. ) And if you’re going to go visit it, great. But…could you finish reading this first? Thanks a bunch.

Now, not only is a top ten list a cool way to get to know things about people you already like, it is also a way to make a connection to a random stranger. I just read one called Top Ten Reasons to Write Your Life Story. Some of them didn’t click with me, but some of them resonated. One of the ones that dinged for me was “No one has your unique perception of the world.” I am always so interested in ordinary stories about ordinary people who have ordinary feelings because it makes me realize there’s no such thing. Every person, every life has its quirky sunny points and its dark underbelly. Everyone has weird childhood stories and some creepy relative and embarrassing crushes and insecurities. And everyone has things that they think are special about themselves and reasons why they enjoy their own company. I like hearing about all of those things, the quiet parts, and seeing into someone else’s unique perception of the world.

Top Ten Lists have those ordinary parts, I think. You don’t manage to be a contributing member of society by spending too much time thinking about your Top Ten Favorite Movies, but they are a snapshot of you. They are little shafts of light into your character. I also think it would be interesting to know what people would choose to make a top ten list for. That was the first question I asked myself when I stumbled onto the website, so that’s where I started this exercise. Plus, I figure if I compile a list of potential top ten lists, whenever I feel stuck about something to write about I have ten topics ready to go. There are the obvious ones, of course, about your favorite books, or your “a ha!” moments or your favorite movies. But I would bet everyone’s Top Ten Top Tens would have a few surprising ones.

So, without further ado…My Top Ten Top Tens List:

1. Top Ten Friends Who Changed Me (I could make this one several times over…and I can’t think of why I deserve to have been that lucky.)
2. Top Ten Ways in Which I Have Been Incredibly Lucky
3. Top Ten Coolest Things About Being a Teacher
4. Top Ten Formative Songs (Jack Wagner singing “Lady of My Heart?” Yeah. There’s a story there.)
5. Top Ten First Kisses. (I've already written about two of them on this blog. But there were others. Oh, wait…is ten too many first kisses? Maybe it’s not a conservative enough number. Which leads me to…)
6. Top Ten Random Insecurites
7. Top Ten Pet Peeves – Entertainment Edition. (The movie and tv crap that pisses you off, like talking babies, alarming news teasers, and food words like “juicy.”)
8. Top Ten Pet Peeves – Social Edition. (People who crack their knuckles in public, for example.
9. Top Ten Surprises About Being a Mom (So. Much. Laundry.
10. Top Ten Old-School Movie Star Crushes. (There’s a LOT I could share about James Garner and Jimmy Stewart. And don’t even get me started on Dick Van Dyke…)

Maybe you will pick one, or make a top ten of your own. I’d love to hear it if you do.