Saying goodbye to summer and hello to the another school year can be sharp. Each Labor Day weekend I over plan because I don’t want to let go. I don’t want to see my freedom dissolve. So I go out to dinner, plan a date night, plan a pool date, plan a lunch out and keep adding to each day just so that I can feel like it’s not slipping away. Yet, it always does. The sun always sets and rises and time always pushes me or rather drops into reality. The reality of 6am alarm clocks and early bed times and packed lunches and pre-made breakfasts and standing for 7 and 1/2 hours and staying positive as little 7th graders push to see if you believe in boundaries and shortened/timed lunches and exhausted evenings. When I listen to my unyielding list of reality, I wonder why I still come back for more. What is it about this job that makes me stay? Am I masochistic?
My job exists in distinct phases.
Phases 1 is when I am adapting, performing, and mourning. I’m adapting to a new principal, 120 new students, and sometimes new colleagues, and this year a new classroom even. It’s hard. I get exhausted and a thought bubbles inside me; one that says just leave, quit, find something else, it’s not worth it! It’s hard. Sleeping in and luxurious breakfasts are replaced with quick and easy breakfasts and a tight morning routine reminiscent of army soldiers. I mourn the loss of my former students who already knew that I have boundaries, who love me for me. I mourn the loss of my freedom. I mourn the loss of my supportive principal. Phase 1 is hard, softened only by brief moments of laughter with colleagues and brilliant surprising hugs from my former students who squeeze in a visit between classes and before lunch.
Phase 2 is when I am celebrating and counting towards the holidays like Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, excuse me, Winter Break. I know breaks are coming which makes each day easy to make it through. I know holidays are coming which makes each a little more exciting especially with 7th graders. Watching them count down with glee is so infectious. It is easier and fun. I am connecting with students and we are laughing and learning and moving forward. Phase 2 can be easy because I am still rested and Autumn’s in the air. We are all giddy with Autumn’s infectious flavors, dreaming about love and parties and romantic experiences.
Next, Phase 3 aka winter. Phase 3 is filled with hard work. Both my students and I come to work during this time because we are used to each other and let’s face it, the weather outside allows for focus inside. It’s cold, it’s dreary but we are light, warm, and motivated. Phase 3’s difficulty comes from shortened days and piles of work. During this time, I sometimes dream about my dream jobs in education: working at a school whose philosophy is experiential education, opening an art space where teens can come to learn from experimentation, working for an organization that teaches teens how to grow emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually, getting my yoga teacher certification, becoming a life coach. I dream because I see how much I can accomplish within the strict rules of district curriculum and how freeing it would mean complete autonomy. I dream because I see what my students need and am forced to limit giving them what they need. Phase 3 frustrates and satisfies me. It reminds me that nothing is perfect and the grass will always look greener.
Then, the finale: Phase 4. Oh Phase 4! It’s hard. It comes like a thunderstorm–without warning. It includes daylight savings, state exams, extended periods with weeks of exams scheduled, longer evenings that tempt you to stay up later than you should, hyper-energized 7th graders. It’s filled with “nothing left to gives” and “I don’t cares” and “yolos”. Making it to work seems like the most challenging task in the world during Phase 4. Nothing matters, just that final date when it will finally be over. Then it comes, again without warming–the goodbyes to the 120 students who now have seen you more hours than your husband in the past ten months. It catches me off guard; all the emotions of knowing we will never laugh together or annoy each other again in this space. Students will come to visit, but it won’t ever be like it is now in Phase 4. Hugs, gentle, kind gifts, reminiscing about that time when ______ called Ms. C a bitch or that time when ______ tripped on the giant rug and almost tore down the SMART board projector or that time when Ms. C spent the period talking about the importance of styling your hair require Phase 4 to be lovely and awful and exhausting and delicious all at once.
Knowing the cycle doesn’t make it easier to begin Phase 1, but it does allow me the right to go through it in the exact way that I choose. I could choose to get dragged into the school year kicking and screaming which sometimes I allow for and completely indulge. I could choose to confidently step into the school year with patience and self care and sometimes I do that too. Most of all I choose to begin again not to repeat the endless cycle, but to try to get better at staying kind to myself and to allow myself to become a better person. I do it to see how much fun I can jam into each phase. I do it to find a little more balance. I do it to find a better idea than last year about a unit. I do it to sculpt myself into an institution that I can be proud of.
In the end, I do it to sculpt myself into an institution that I can be proud of.
Deep within me,
in a special felt basket,
Soft and lovely:
Nynamma’s chicken curry,
Saturday afternoon hikes with Sam,
Riding dads green scooter barely tall enough to see above the handles
Far closer to my heart!
Far away from today!
Soft and lovely they live
The Mumbai Fish fry across from the embassy
The roadside pani puri
Trips to the meat market
Down in a corner of my soul
I placed them.
Oh so long ago
to quickly evolve into
red, white, and blue.
Pull each out
Hold and see and feel
The silent humming from the cinema right when the hero finally gets the girl
The silent tabla that awakens my soul
The warm roti from that trip to the mountains
Longing to feel
the sugar cane juice
Longing to sit
on her veranda
and be the first
to be served–
I live my comfortable, easy
Red, white, and blue
In hopes that one day,
You’ll see me
For a second
of then and now.
[My chicken fry.]
You with your pointy finger
And meetings about
the ones that continued
to demoralize and devalue me, my abilities, my talents.
You with your Harvard bound children
whom I couldn’t challenge with my lowly abilities,
Who self published a novel and so, could easily do what I do for a living.
You with your stubborn eyes
and heels cemented to the classroom floor.
I dare you
To continue daily not showing an ounce of bias whilst performing your craft and knowing that your own Principal doesn’t support or believe in you!
I dare you
To overcome and grow
inspite of a group of people who couldn’t understand your talent, who judged you for your last name, who came towards you with mass weapons of anger and suspicion.
I dare you!
to be me
For a day
For an hour
For a minute
And show a fraction of the grace that ripples off me when I walk down the hall!
Spinach, cabbage, onion, grape tomatoes, quinoa, apple, and radish swish around our wooden salad bowl waiting for their glistening attire. Olive oil, balsamic vinegar, nutmeg, cinnamon, and honey gather into a sparkling dress. It’s Friday evening; I’ve spent most of the day at the pool and it’s my turn to make dinner. I mix together the vegetables and my dressing admiring the sudden shimmer. It seems just yesterday, I never made a salad at home or ordered one at a restaurant. They never filled me and I didn’t know how to make them matter in my life. This was before, before I met the person who would allow me to gently change.
Three November’s ago, I met a colleague who ate mostly salads for lunch and another colleague who ate hummus and veggies. I would look at both lunches and think, I could never do that. I am not a salad eater. I like food and warm, comfort food at that. I can spend so much time labeling myself as what I can’t do or don’t do. Just the other day I declined a tennis match because the rest of the players were “athletes” and I don’t consider myself one. It’s so easy to tell others I’m not an athlete; I don’t eat salads. I live immersed in a label-filled world; a world filled with “I don’t do that’s”.
What would happen if we didn’t allow our fears of not being good enough and other people’s opinions of us decide who we are and what we do? I would like to say there few things in this world that I am not up for. I will try most things, so why was it that I was limiting myself from playing tennis or eating delicious salads?
The thing about labels is they stick to you even as you grow up. Till today my grandpa asks me if I like daal like I used to when I was a toddler. Although I get frustrated at him, I do hold that sticker with pride–a foodie from birth! I’ve become so accustomed to needing others approval in all that I do. From where I work and what I do for a living to how I wear my hair, it’s all crap. Getting attention for who you are, as much as I don’t like to admit it, makes me feel good. But how important is it? How important is it that others think I’m a beautiful, kind, talented person? What about my opinion of myself? What happens when you rip off a label? Will I still be me without labels? Are all labels bad? Do all labels limit you?
Perhaps it’s not the labels themselves, but the source that are bad. For example, if I believe that I am an extrovert and love that about myself or that I am a super cheesy romantic at heart and find it endearing, then these beliefs can gift me confidence. However, if I write labels about me that come from fears (False Evidence Appearing Real), then they can turn into little cancers that eat away at my ego and sanity. Saying I don’t do something because I am afraid is saying to myself that I value others’ opinions above mine. It’s saying to myself I’m not willing to grow and become a better person. Small changes can make large impacts.
I used to believe salads were bland, gross, flavorless. I used to believe they were the last American food that I would not succumb to. Until early spring, this year, when I received an obscene quantity of greens through my CSA and finally decided it was time to attempt a salad or two. So, I asked the same colleague how she makes her salads and dressings. Although it seems like one day I just chose to make the change, it took years of watching her eat these salads enviously and then finally tasting one at a potluck lunch. M shared her salad recipes or rather her salad dressing formula with me because her advice was find the veggies you love and use those. Her dressing formula: Acid (Lemon, orange, or vinegar) + Oil (Flavored Oils work best) + Seasoning mixes that you use to cook with (Orange ginger seasoning, etc.)= Dressing Additionally, you could add water to cut the fat.
When we received so many salad greens and radishes and onions and beets in our CSA one Thursday, I set out to attempt my first salad and forced my palate to grow. My salad was simple. It included the above ingredients, but my dressing was phenomenal (Freshly squeezed orange juice, a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, basil olive oil, 2 tablespoons of honey, and a tablespoons of orange ginger seasoning mix). It was the first time I created a salad that I couldn’t wait to eat at lunch. I remember envisioning my lunch during 3rd period the next day and salivating over it. (Side note: teachers normally get 30 minutes of contracted lunches; however, by the time students leave the room and you get your lunch and heat it up and go to the bathroom, it’s actually a 15-20 minute lunch.) Having a salad meant, I didn’t have to spend my lunch time waiting for it to get warm or fighting over the microwave. Thus, this small change that I was so resistant towards for over 20 years allowed me a more relaxed lunch that day.
I live my life so easily sticking to the labels that others and myself have placed on me. I do this without considering the freedom I would uncover by ripping even one-off. My fear of not being good enough is a limitation that I learned early in life and it served me well as a kid; it kept me safe from embarrassment. It does not serve me any longer. This small change–eating and making salads–shows me that all it takes is one small change.
Friday night, I tossed a simple salad together and sat down label free for one night marinating in the bliss of a limitless me.
Late into the night Early in the morning Noon when the sun is high high above my head I think about it! With soft tender eyes-- The possibility One that I spent so many years carefully evading
I sit on my honey-brown leather couch And dream each day what would it be like Will it be easy, hard, challenging, free Exciting, calm, frustrating, exhausting?
Just then, the very moment I smile-- They fly in like irritating bites, they sting and itch I try to ignore each one to ensure my skin isn't broken But they stay for days Demanding my attention Until I scratch scratch the surface
Fear A constant reminder that I am human and don't have control over this-- over Anything I scratch in hopes of releasing it
yet it lingers, the air about me
Desire You push push me to expect To believe And I want to I want to see it: The laughter, the fights, the love
The cycle complete with Me as their puppet: Easily pulled and easily pushed dark, thin strings strings of control
Deep inside me under all the layers close to the warm core lies a bead, a pearl sized bead I look to it when I'm alone I examine each side and slant and curve I hold it tight I let it slip Deep inside me under all the layers close to the warm core lies a bead I grab it when I'm drowning I roll it in my palm gently in circles I keep it still I let it be Deep inside me under all the layers close to the warm core lies a bead, a pearl a pearl