Monday, September 5, 2011
Sitting on a mottled mossy rock by the river, Toby diving for rocks and a pair of pintails paddling in the eddies, I find myself thinking of home. It may be the utter stillness: only the faintest hint of water rushing over stones farther up the river stirs the air. It may be the annual autumnal longings stirred to the surface by the tiniest hint of chill in the breeze. Or it may just be these thoughts are born from what feels like a new open space in my heart.
Open House, the night before school started, was packed, chaotic, and deeply satisfying. I felt completely at home greeting and shaking hands with my new families and gathering hugs from former families. But something was different this time. I've always loved this night, loved the celebrity aspect of being the center of so much attention, as well as discovering the first chapter of all the new stories to be written in the months ahead. This year, even though my room was full of people curious about their new teacher, it didn't feel like any of it was about me at all. I was able to let go of worries about how I was going to be perceived, and to focus completely on my kids.
From the moment the kids walked in on the first day until I sent them home on Friday, I felt at home. As though I'd never left the classroom. And my first priority was to make sure the kids felt at home—safe, happy, cared for.
Those were things I did not feel in my own childhood home, especially at ten. Instead I was afraid, sad, and certain I was the reason our family was so broken. School was the closest I came to feeling at home. But even there, because I knew in my bones I wasn't acceptable to my own family, I felt I had to be on guard to present what I thought was an acceptable version of myself.
It's taken years of work, and most likely my mom's death in June, for me to make the connection between my belief in my acceptability and my sense of home.
So as the first week of school passed in a blurred series of snapshot moments, I knew with each one how at home I was feeling. I realized the person who left two years ago was no longer present. She's been replaced by someone with serenity and optimism and faith; someone who laughs easily and ruffles almost not at all; someone who can and does choose to release resistance.
The eyes of this new person brimmed with tears repeatedly as love for my deliciously varied crew of ten-year-olds swept over me time and time again.
Lovely names, each a prayer: Angelina, Sterling, Joy, Grace. Shy smiles and dancing eyes and invitations to conversations. "Hey, Mrs. Shucka, you know what?" An offering of a homemade peanut butter cookie. Hundreds of questions: one boy needing to ask every minute or so with great sincerity and intensity. A girl hiding under her desk, separating herself at lunch, wearing a winter coat zipped to the chin. Another child wearing dirty hole-spattered clothes, and smiling at me through grime that would require some serious scrubbing to conquer. Playing games, celebrating our first birthday, setting a strong foundation for this new nine-month family.
I am at home in the world of ten-year-olds, in the classroom, in school. In going back, I've discovered I'm at home in my own skin, my own soul, where true home exists. While I still prefer the home of sharing a sweet September afternoon with Toby, or wrapped in Walt's arms, or in the company of my brothers, or sitting at my kitchen table watching goldfinches feed, I can't help but think feeling home wherever I am is one of the greatest gifts I've ever received.
Photo by Walt