It’s a sticky October morning on a day determined to reach the mid-80’s again. I am in the house alone before 9:00 a.m., a rarity, as I am usually teaching.
My husband is the one who typically gets my son off to school in the mornings since I am out the door before anyone is awake. But he is up in New York for a couple of days with his parents. His father is fighting cancer and continues to bounce back from major surgeries like he’s the Italian Stallion, aka Rocky Balboa. He just keeps getting up from those punches. God bless him.
I loved getting to spend those precious, early-morning minutes with my boy, those moments when he comes into the master bedroom to deliver his first thoughts of the day. And I have been missing them a lot this fall. He is usually toting blankie and his favorite one or two stuffed animals of the week. Currently, blankie’s two companions are a deflating, glue-shaped balloon, affectionately named Elmer, and a plastic, pink pig (Piggy) obtained from our weekend visit to a local farm, that makes an oinking noise when squeezed. What a motley crew. The fact that a boy can be attached to a balloon restores the waning hoping for humanity I often have these days. I want to be my boy. I want the world to be him. I want all of it to be that simple and beautiful. But instead, I get these moments to cling to.
Accompanying us on our journey to the farm (where we obtained Piggy) was my mom, who was up from Virginia; she drove up in a car “that smelled like a real car,” a reference from Cynthia Rylant’s marvelous children’s book, The Relatives Came. In fact, mom only lives an hour and a half away, so her journey was far from the all day and night drive the relatives in the book had. But the fact that this reference can pop into my head right now is a testament to the restorative properties that early mornings with my son can bring and to the power of words that catch inside our brain, like leaves that get snagged on branches as they float downstream. Some words just do that.
And now I realize I am continuing to digress, which is a testament to the beauty of mornings at the dining room table when you find yourself alone. When you finally make space for all of the water trying to flow toward the well you’ve so desperately needed to fill.
My life has been a pretty low well these days. I have found myself in one of those uncomfortable places. It’s one of those times when you are crossing off days on the calendar. This is a rare place for me to be, but I am here. I feel as if my foot is stuck in between two rocks, but all I want to do is to keep journeying, to see what else lies up ahead. And I am hoping it’s a beautiful waterfall.
The reason I am here is the result of various circumstances. Mostly, I have been having a more challenging semester than is typical, a much more challenging semester in fact. I wake up some nights with my head spinning and my stomach tied in knots. I spend hours on lesson plans for one of my classes and still find them inadequate on the days I enter the classroom. I am working with students who have short attention spans and little desire to be challenged. One class is four days a week and starts at 8:00 am, and I am lucky if 3/4 of the group of eight students shows up each day. I am teaching reading skills to this early morning class, and I am in fact a writing teacher. So there are things. Reasons why school is not going as swimmingly as I would like.
And yet, I am also finding that as the weeks roll by, and they do, that I come up against a little less resistance -within myself and within my students. I am finding that this is what it really means to be a teacher. It means adapting to the harder places you find yourself in; it means shifting into new shapes to meet the needs of students who don’t know their own way forward; it means shucking your syllabus out the window when days call for it. It means listening to your gut, and I mean really, truly listening, to hear what the next steps should be on any given day or week.
It means replenishing the well as often as possible. And by this, I mean your own personal well. Sit beside the proverbial riverbank. Dip those toes in. Maybe even consider adopting a balloon you could bring from room to room or a small, pink pig (insert your favorite animal).
All in all, this semester will likely go down in my memory as one of the greatest learning experiences of my community college days. If I never felt stuck or uncomfortable, sweating out 80-degree days on October afternoons, I’d never really get anywhere. I’d never make it to those beautiful waterfalls waiting downstream.