In the next week or so, everybody around here who's going back to school will be heading back. I've already got a steady influx of teacher friends on Facebook lamenting their return to lesson plans, field trips, and core curriculum. I've gone through an initial round of first day of school pictures, and will be prepared for the next round to hit right after Labor Day, when most Massachusetts kids head back to books, backpacks and (hopefully) brain expanding in various forms. It's a time of year that hits me hard, usually, since I am not among those going back to school.
It's been 12 years since I've headed back to school on a crisp September morning ~> before that, I'd done it steadily (and with great enthusiasm, for the most part,) for the previous 19 years, as both student, and then teacher. And I miss it. I miss having to meet my class in the brisk schoolyard before the bell rings on a December morning, watching them all fidget their way into the building, seeing as they mentally prepare for the day now that they've got enough of the school year under their belts to know what's expected of them.
I miss circle times and study guides and picking the exact right book to introduce the exact right concept. (Not that I have stopped doing this: you can ask pretty much anybody and they'd tell you that my solution to almost everything is the Exact. Right. Book.) I miss the hugs you'd get spontaneously when a kid just overflowed with happy, and the look on their face when something you've been trying to squeeze into their head a million different ways suddenly fits just right, and they get it. I miss having a kid in my class draw a picture of our class, with me in my wheelchair, as if that were the way we were naturally supposed to be drawn. I just miss it, sometimes, is all. And it makes Septembers hard.
But I also think about all the things I've been able to be a part of because I haven't been working. All the days I would've missed out on if I hadn't been able to live with people and make not working a possibility. (Because, health wise, working is not a possibility. But financially, not-working means being incredibly poor. Or, in my case, homeless without the support of my family.) A lot of the things I've been a part of in these past 12 years - good and bad - are things that, had I been at work - I might have missed out on. Or, at the very least, I wouldn't have gotten to experience them as completely as I have.
It's only because I wasn't working that I was able to stay with Grandmother during her final summer:a As hard as that was, it will always be precious to me. Same goes for the time I spent with Nana. I was able to spend a significant amount of time helping to raise the children in my life - thinking of all the times I was able to rock one of them to sleep or help them learn to read or argue with them about politics or introduce them to a particular obsession of mine, those are things I'd never trade. I know that I am lucky to have had those times, to keep having them. I've been able to sit with loved ones who were sick or sad or lonely or lost; I've had the time to lovingly craft things for those I wanted to show how much I cared; I've read all the books in all the land (never: but I'm at least attempting it); I've done good things and tried to be a good person.
It isn't as if I would have consciously made these choices - be sick, don't work, stay sick but learn how to care and express your caring in whole new ways - but things happened, and I did make choices, I have TRIED.
So here we are at another September, and I miss it again: the lure of being normal, of doing what I set out to do with my life is strong. And still: there's another situation in our family where I realize, yet again, if I were working, how would I help? How could I be available when people needed me? It's a real mixed bag, this life. Because I could not be more grateful that I CAN be around for those I love when I know they need me most, but I still hear the siren call of school bells, still get that little twist in my gut when the bus drives by, still sometimes send my teacher friends ideas for lesson plans, unsolicited.
September was always the New Year for me, logically. It never made sense in January, still doesn't. September's when things start changing, when the weather wears down and turns vivid, when the air gets fresher, when the routine starts anew. Our routine this September is going to be a tough one, one of holding together the pieces for as long as possible, and cursing cancer, and helping kids to understand things that there just aren't any Exact. Right. Books. for. And I feel miserably underqualified for this, and too far away, and too close, and yet: that's what you do, I told my brother, as he calls me and worries about his wife. "It's what you do, even though it's torture. You show up, you walk through, you do your best, because you love them. It's all anybody can ask."
So I let myself be sad about missing the work I wanted to do, and I show up. I do the work I've been doing, and instead of sharpening pencils, I try to sharpen my wits. And instead of grading tests, I try to judge where on the emotional breakdown scale my nephew might be falling today. Instead of lesson plans, I work on treatment plans. And I do my best not to do too much, or too little, and I just show up.
---Title quote: Robert Fulghum, All I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten (where he, by the way, agrees with me about the whole September = New Year thing.)