“Listen–are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?”
― Mary Oliver
The beginning of the school year always hits me with a wave of exhaustion. I try to be gentle on myself, after all, it is a shock to the system after several months of being out of the classroom. As I near turning fifty, I am noticing that it takes a little longer for me to bounce back. This year, even more so, because of the Coronavirus pandemic. In our district, we closed up our buildings mid-March and returned in September. I have never been so happy to return to work!
It has been quite an adjustment for me wearing a mask all day while teaching. While we try to build in short mask breaks outside for our students, we have been presented with many extra challenges that has altered our teaching routine. However, I have reminded myself many times that going back to work is always a big adjustment in contrast to my summer routine. Yet, teaching is my calling. I cannot imagine doing anything else.
Last Monday was definitely a Monday. Even though this is my 20th year of teaching, each Sunday night I still get that anxious feeling. I didn’t get enough accomplished at home. I didn’t get enough school work accomplished. I am sure I am not alone.
At the end of the school day Monday, when my stepson Lukas came into my classroom, I let out a huge sigh. He too looked tired. So we both sat down and I told him a story.
When I was in college, I worked as a waitress at Marc’s Big Boy in the Grand Avenue Mall in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Two sweet little old ladies used to come in and order “dessert first”. They’d gossip, cackle, and enjoy their hot fudge sundaes. Then they would order dinner (usually meatloaf or liver and onions). I knew to deliver their dinner to their table in a to-go container.
“Amy,” they’d tell me, “when you are our age, you get to eat dessert first! Life’s short. If we ate our dinner we wouldn’t have room for dessert.”
I loved waiting on them and always looked forward to their sage advice.
I remember this job fondly, and all my shifts were not as positive as my weekly chats with these two sweet women. Yet, it was a formative and eye-opening experience for this small town girl. I was learning about life up close by serving the public. When I truly paid attention, people were serving me wisdom. At times, more so than my brilliant professors at Marquette University (that I didn’t nearly appreciate enough at my young age).
As a teacher I often sprinkle my lessons with stories like the one I told Lukas on Monday. I remind my students to pay attention to the world around them and the people they meet. To listen to the stories of their grandparents tell and to talk to their parents. To not just answer questions with a shrug and single word response. To be engaged, alive, and connected.
To pick their heads up out of their digital devices and to listen more.
To pay attention to the wisdom glittering all around us.
Not everything we learn comes out of the classroom.
Truth-be-told, some of the most vital life lessons happen outside of an educational institution. Yet, the key is finding ways to connect these nuggets of wisdom with our own passions and curiosity about the world. School gives us an opportunity to explore our strengths and weaknesses, it allows us to network, and build our knowledge and skill base.
Monday was a long day. Like my colleagues, I had a list of things “to do” that was a mile long. I could have stayed at school for several more hours and I still would not have been finished. But sometimes you have to take care of yourself, and your family, first.
I told Lukas him that I was cashing in my dessert first before dinner card.
So we did!
He happily obliged. 😉
Monday I made time for something sweet and time for play.
What could be better than frozen custard, a boy and his dog(s), and a gorgeous place than we can call home? We all need a sacred place where we can unwind and recharge.
When you get to be my age, you learn to appreciate it all.