"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Monday, September 5, 2011

At Home


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 She's been replaced by someone with serenity and optimism and faith; someone who laughs easily and ruffles almost not at all; someone who can and does choose to release resistance.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


27 comments:

kt said...

I am in awe of you ability to express how you feel about the world around you. It is a gift, and one I will never have. I often think that I hide behind humor to keep from feeling the actual pain that often enters my heart.

Thank you for sharing. These children are definitely very fortunate to have such a caring person help mold their lives for not only the next nine month, but for the rest of their lives as the seeds you plant in them grow.
kt

JennfierL said...

Beautiful! I so wish I was ten again and you were my teacher.

It just dawned on me how lucky I was that my two years in Portland were the two years you had off :-)

Retired English Teacher said...

Home is such a wonderful place to be. They say, "Home is where the heart is." I don't think it is trite to say that you have discovered the truthfulness of this statement.

DJan said...

What a gentle and loving post filled with gratitude! Welcome back home, Deb! :-)

yaya said...

What a lovely post. How lucky those students are to have you! Enjoy the year and all it has to offer. I know those children will be forever changed because of a wonderful teacher they have this year.

Julia said...

That was beautiful.

It almost makes me miss the classroom and the kids for sure.

Have a wonderful year!

Wanda said...

I want to be in your class.

patricia said...

This is so inspired, and it makes me want to walk down to that school and hug every single one of those precious little people who "get" to have you as their fifth grade teacher. They have no idea what a gift that is. I love you, my friend, and I am so happy you are at home wherever you go! I want that too, and will certainly have it!

Stacy Crawford said...

I think we have the same students! I even have the bright-eyed, smily, grimy student. I love them all!

I'm glad you are at home. It's good to finally have peace. You are an enigma to me. Thanks for helping me grow with you!

Ann Best said...

Ten year olds. That's SUCH a special age. I have an 11 year old grandson, mildly autistic, who LOVES school--his "special" school. They all need good, loving teachers, and I can tell you are one of the best from these beautiful expressions of your love for them; from your excitement, and the "new open space" in your heart. To focus completely on the children--that is losing one's self in another. And for you all to feel like you're "home" in the classroom is the highest of goals. It just sounds like you're going to have a wonderful year!!!

So glad you stopped by my blog tonight. I'm in a slump and haven't posted for over two weeks, but I think I'll get a new post up tomorrow. Meanwhile, you commented on my post about taking my daughter to the Beach Boys. All reader comments were positive; everyone loves the Beach Boys, it seems! It was a MOST perfect evening, and Jen and I hope they'll be back again next year!!
Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror, A Memoir of Shattered Secrets

#1Nana said...

Welcome home. After such a long and hard journey it is a blessing to find the comfort of home. I hope you have a wonderful school year. I subbed last week for two days in high school Spanish and had a blast. It's like riding a bike...

Katie Gates said...

You got me, Deb. Reaching for the Kleenex now! (So, we're one-for-one for the day, right?)

This is a beautiful, calming reflection on personal growth and how it settles one's perspective. Going back is not always going back -- not if you've moved forward in the meantime!

Desiree said...

I was awestruck by your beautiful post, then struck a second time when I read through each of the wonderful comments this post generated! They all carry echoes of my own thoughts and reactions to having read your heartfelt words, Deb, so I shall say no more.

Dee Ready said...

Your posting today, Deb,have left me with great gratitude for the journey you share with us.

The blog I began in May is entitled "coming home to myself." And that is what I finally learned after 75 years. That home lives, grows, flourishes within me. Journeys with me as a the home of shell journeys with the tortoise.

Your blog posting tells me that you, too, are experiencing--have experienced--the great joy. The deep shuddering breath. The sighing comfort of knowing that wherever you are and whomever you travel with and however you cherish yourself and your dreams--you are coming home to yourself.

Peace. And thank you for your comment today on my latest posting. Nothing is ever lost.

Charlene: the Polarblogger said...

This really feels like home. Reading about the scenes in your classroom is heartwarming.
Thanks for showing us your "home" full of interesting kids. It's a pleasure to read this blog.

Niki said...

So happy you are enjoying the path you are on, and those children are blessed to have you!

Lilith said...

I'm glad it's good for you. I don't know if you've read "The Help" or seen the movie but there is a line in it which I love. Abiline, the black maid, says to the little girl whom she cares for, "You is smart, you is kind, you is important." What a wonderful gift to give to a child. I wish I'd had that gift.

You seem like the kind of teacher who can give that gift to her charges.

She Writes said...

I want to be ten and in your class. I myself want to be at home. I know what it is to miss that all too well.

Rita said...

You're probably going to be an even better teacher after being away. Seems like you changed in ways you didn't even realize until you were back. Sounds like it is going to be an impressive journey this year.

I liked being at school more than being at home, too. I think those ten-year-olds are lucky to have this chance to spend a year with you! :):)

kario said...

I have been wondering how it feels for you to be back at school and I am so pleased that you are finding it a happy place. You are absolutely called to be a teacher, in so many different and wonderful ways and I just know that the lessons you will give (and receive) this year will be gifts to us all. Thank you for sharing. I am sorry that this "homecoming" has been so hard-won, but I am so pleased that you have come home at last.

Love.

Deb Cushman said...

I'm happy that your settling in is going well.

Barb said...

My fifth grade self hid behind what I felt was "acceptable." That year after the death of my father was a turning point - my wonderful teacher was an island of calm in a turbulent sea. By the end of that school year, I decided (though nobody in my extended family had ever gone to college) that I would someday be a teacher, too. Because my teacher was "at home," with herself, she could encourage me to be "at home" with myself. I hope you continue on this path of "serenity and optimism and faith" Deb! Good Luck to you and your students.

Mark Lyons said...

I was near tears as I read this...tears of joy for the love and peace that you felt in the classroom your first week back. And tears of sorrow at the pain you felt at home growing up. I am so glad that you (and I) have had these past two years to spend so much time together...sharing, growing and healing. This will be your best ever year in the classroom.

I love you
Mark

colbymarshall said...

Aw, this is so nice. You must be a wonderful teacher, Deb. The kids are so lucky to have you!

Linda Myers said...

Wonderful, fabulous post! Thank you.

Midlife Jobhunter said...

"In going back, I've discovered I'm at home in my own skin, my own soul, where true home exists."

That's what its all about, right there. Sounds very peaceful.

Kathryn Grace said...

What joy in this. Speaking of joy, how is possible you got so many kids with deeply meaningful names? Will this be one of those special years a teacher gets now and then, the truly memorable one that makes all the years, all the lessons worthwhile? I wonder.