(Song Dedication: Float On by Modest Mouse)
Today was the first day of Grade 3 for our son. Today was the first day of school that I did not attend as a teacher of my own volition. Last September, I was still delicate and life so precarious. I didn’t know at the time, fall of 2018, that going forward, I would be free of my migraines completely. I didn’t know what was about to transpire in the year ahead, now the year in hindsight. And for all that it was, I am immensely grateful and struggle to find a “more” word that would do this feeling in my chest the honour it deserves. I suppose it’s not just one word that can define gratitude, which is why it is difficult to articulate clearly to you, as my reader. For if it were just me, I would sit in it and feel it as it envelopes me like the most perfectly custom fit hug that confirms at the soul level, I am where I am suppose to be. So, I will just do what I do…and meander about with my words and thoughts until I feel adequately expressed.
We had a lovely labour day long weekend with my Brother’s family. Our son loves his cousins dearly and they play so well together, it is a joy to watch them laugh and run and pretend and grow-up together. We wanted the last days of summer to be special for our family. Especially since I lost nearly 2 weeks with my boys, having made the difficult decision to travel back to the UK solo for my bio-Dad’s funeral in early August. We suffered some hard hits this summer, we lost our 12-year-old Wheaten Terrier, Lucy suddenly to a stroke mid-June. My Father in Wales, took a turn for the worst a few days later and by the end of the next week, he too had passed. The losses were a heavy weight that are an essential part of the human experience, made more weighty by all the other “normal” challenges that any one human might also face.
The normalness of my other shit was still quietly existing; the chronic pain, moments of anxiety, self-doubt and abandonment, adequate-or-otherwise parenting skills, adequate-or-otherwise puppy training skills, blah, blah, blah, the imperfect list could go on forever, right?! You get it though…shit is hard enough sometimes and then you lose your dog and a parent and bam! You have the formula for a hit country song. Except I don’t write country songs, or any songs for that matter…thank god I write this blog though…and then hey, I do incorporate a song dedication so I guess I’m kinda a song + writer = songwriter. Whatever, I’m fairly terrible at math…although that particular flaw didn’t come in play over the summer….mmmmm, unless I want to get into the cost of how much money it takes to fly to and from the UK twice in 4 months as well as all the additional costs of international travel, not to mention the cost on my body, but nah, that just gets far too depressing.
So our son has been hesitant at best about his return to school. Most of his anxieties rested with how hard Grade 3 work will be and how much I will miss my Mom everyday…sigh…I know that last one really gets me in the feels. I am well aware of the social-emotional and developmental changes grade 3’ers go through, it is a huge transition year where kids really grow up at alarming speed. That is why I love teaching this age group in particular, but as a parent it feels different knowing these open-hearted admissions are becoming numbered as our little boy matures.
Last night the excitement began to build for him, the anticipation of seeing his friends, wearing his perfectly curated back to school outfit that his Dad may or may not have questioned under his breath to me after our son had fallen asleep…Jeeze…you’re not gonna actually let him wear that are you?? I smiled from my side of the bed into the darkness responding proudly, I am because it makes him happy and he’s not hurting anyone by wearing those things. You are probably curious what those things entail; a white long-sleeve polo shirt like the ones kids mandatorily wear to private school, his Cameron Frye khakis from last year’s halloween costume, black suspenders, black tie and his black suit vest…oh and his Marty McFly red swoosh Nikes. I asked him what he called this look and he said he was going for the guy-who-acts-for-the-main-character-in-footloose-first-day-of-highschool-what’s-his-name?-something-Pickle? I paused for a moment, knowing the movie quite well, but the Pickle reference really threw me for a moment…then I realized he was just mixing up some of his favourite food groups…Ohhhhh, you mean Kevin Bacon?! We both laughed hysterically for a moment, but then I looked at his assembled outfit so carefully considered and kinda got it and said supportively, You look fantastic and ready for Grade 3. He appreciated being accepted for what his choice was. I did ask him about the vest (feeling deep down like it might have been a bit much) saying that it unfortunately covered his suspenders, he scrutinized his reflection for a moment and then said, Yup…good point. I don’t need the vest. His Dad was likely most concerned that although no one else would be hurt by his son’s controversial clothing choices, the sensitive little boy we love might have been hurt by someone else’s judgement, so I think everyone’s considerations were taken into account this morning.
We left the house with Scout, our giant puppy, and began the walk to school. It was a comfortable 12 degrees celsius, no wind and all sun. It was a nice walk at which the jarring reality of him growing up quickly hit about 5 minutes in, when he suggested I walk him to “the trail” and let him walk the last 400 meters without me. A bit crestfallen, I chuckled, nooooooo wayyyyy Jose, maybe another day but not on the first day, I want to be there with you! He looked up at me and smiled relenting with a slow Okay, Mom….like he was somehow letting me walk with him? Little Buggar!
Five minutes after that we came across another family walking and he seized the shit out of the opportunity and began speed-walking ahead as I was distracted by other Mom’s also holding their tumblers of coffee fuel, anticipating how much they might too get done in these 3 glorious hours after drop off for the half day of school…it does feel a bit luxurious to think my son goes to a place where he has friends and awesome teachers (the kind that were all outside this morning on the playground, smiling and hugging and saying I’m so happy to see you! to their last year’s students), and will learn stuff, meanwhile I get shit done! It’s pretty amazing really!
So as I watched him speed walk ahead and wait at the cross walk by himself, I felt his independent happiness mix with my own and that felt so warm and secure and proud. Proud of him but proud of me too. We’ve come a long way, kid.
The next 8 minutes became more about puppy training as all manner of kids approached wanting to get some Scout-love, I was impressed by how many asked if they could pet her before actually petting her. As I was busy keeping her butt on the ground, pawing paws from shoving tiny chests and shoulders and her gaping mouth from licking entire arms, my kid disappeared to wherever he found his long-lost friends of summer and when the bell went all I saw was the scooping up of his green backpack as he ran off in the direction of the gym for the first assembly of the year. No good-bye.
I left with the puppy and we walked home in silence, still carrying that bubble of joy floating within me. I began to think of the summer and this last year, which then lead me to this moment now where I am writing of typically inconsequential or mundane events and yet I realize as I do this I am fostering the longevity of this gratitude honouring all these little things that add up to so, so much. And they actually aren’t little or inconsequential, because had I not had the courage to stop, step back from the chaos that was eating me alive and fix myself and disassociate with the heavy ideals and rules I had been living by, I would have missed all of it. My son might have been running off to school this morning without me still, but it would have been because he needed to escape the stifling energy of control I use to rely on to keep it all in check, control the anxiety of the unknown with more anxiety. Instead I have learned to surrender and allow.
The theme I have really tapped into lately is the idea of change. Change use to be my number one anxiety trigger, so dodgy and unpredictable. However, there is a power to be harnessed when you accept that the only one constant in life is change. When you allow this flow to encompass your being and perhaps even go along with it, as if it were the current of a mighty river, you have more energy to stay afloat, rather than swimming upstream like I tried to do for over 30 years, it’s just not sustainable, for me anyway, or salmon….I mean they do it for procreation/sustainability, to birth the next generation, so their species may survive as a vital part of the ecosystem, I know that, I’ve taught the Salmon life cycle many times. However the difference between me and a salmon is I am not living in an eat or be eaten, swim up stream and fight for my life type existence, thankfully, at least not anymore. And some people are. Some people are swimming upstream thinking this is the only way for them to exist, but it will burn you out damn quick if you continue this way. Perhaps if we could all just allow the current to be our friend, trust it, and find our flow in our river, we might get more out of life; longevity being one, but also more joy, more peace, more creativity, more awareness, sounds wonderful to me. But that’s just me.
As I float down this river, I feel peace in the knowing that I will be okay. Our son will be okay, especially if I am there to help him swim when he really needs it, but know he won’t learn to swim if I don’t let him go to find his own way of navigating his own currents.
Last night I felt something deep down that surprised me and I wondered if it was my ego for a moment and then realized it wasn’t, it was coming from a deeper place of knowing. I felt a bit sad that I wouldn’t get the privilege of welcoming back last year’s students into a classroom of my own. That I wouldn’t be starting my morning off with a coffee in hand with wonderful colleagues who were nervous and excited, like me, to get another school year underway. Sad I wouldn’t get to meet my new students and remember them this week and how they would steadily grow and progress from this point onward. Teacher’s have such a special task, they shape our society by creating an environment that embraces change with children who are in constant flux. They provide the stability day to day for multiple children who come from all different backgrounds and walks of life and teach them how to connect and relate to one another, this is an incredibly difficult and tall order to meet and yet they just do. It’s a beautiful thing. A calling. I yearned for all of this last night as I reflected on my 12 years in the classroom.
But I also felt the overall shock of how I could change my thinking like this, after all I have been through in my life. And then I realized with my experiences from this morning with my son, the past experiences as a teacher, or even further back in my life, everything that has aligned to help me write these words now, this is how it is all meant to be. I was a teacher, and perhaps I still am in many ways as I write these words that might help someone else who struggles the way I have. And maybe one day I will be that teacher again with her own classroom, anticipating the excitement of a new school year. I don’t really know and that doesn’t concern me one bit. I have only now and I am taking in the abundance of my life as it is. I feel hope. I feel joy. I feel peace. I feel connected to everything at a deep, deep intrinsic level and know that is all that matters. And even when I don’t feel this way and some of these positive feelings are overshadowed with the anxiety, doubt and unworthiness, I know that this too shall pass.
It’s ever changing. It’s all fleeting. All we can do is grab onto the fragments we are lucky enough to notice as they float by us rather than dismissing them as worthless debris, also suspended by the flow of where we have found ourselves, and then be open enough to deposit them into our beingness as reminders of what we do have, rather than what we don’t. This understanding comes with the acceptance that everything changes, including our thinking, our reasoning, our positions and values. I use to think that changing my mind meant I was weak or unreliable. That the only way to exist was to stick to what I believed and die with those fundamental ideals. Complete identification with thoughts. And then the thoughts defined me and affected how I interacted with everything. Now I see how limiting this idea is. Change is the only constant, that is something significant I feel like I now own. But just because I own it, doesn’t mean there isn’t enough for all of us. You can own it too and believe me it brings such relief and breath and expansion into our anxious, orchestrating, striving and controlling ways. Let yourself change your mind about something today and notice the shift you might experience. That’s the feeling of growth.