Sometimes, the universe is sending you a message and you refuse to hear it. Sometimes, you hear it and ignore it for a while, until the din is too loud, the message unavoidable. And even then, doubt makes you hesitate, even though every sign points to yes.
A couple of weeks ago, I told my colleagues that I wanted to let go of the unpaid work I was doing at the lovely school where I teach—I'm just over half-time and had taken on much of the extracurricular work of a full-time teacher, including establishing a new diversity program. Then we went on our trip. I thought some more. I feel proud of a lot of the work I am doing. I know I'm a good teacher, and I love working with adolescents, who are so eager to discuss everything. I hope the school is a better place for my having been there. And I know that my kids are better off for having been there. I'm a better parent, in some ways.
Having four-year-olds is easier than having toddlers, mostly: they can be remarkably independent and creative. Sometimes I get a break—they go into their room, into the brother zone, and play beautifully. And at the same time, they're equally, if not more, exhausting. That two-hour nap in the middle of the day, during which I would daydream, write, get some work done, and drink tea? It's long gone, replaced by wrestling with two energetic chatterboxes who can't sleep at night if they take a nap. "Quiet time" consists of my scuttling from room to room while they try to play on top of my head. Yet this age is so short. In a couple of years, they'll be in first grade, learning to read and write, finding deep interests.
Last Friday, I drove to school feeling certain. I taught my classes, sat down to talk with the high school coordinator about a diversity issue, then closed with, "Well, I guess now is the time when I say I'm not coming back next year." The clarity and lightness I felt stayed there until I told my kids' teacher. I have loved all the teachers my boys have had at this school, and nothing has made this decision harder than having to say goodbye to them. It is perhaps fitting that I'm coming around to this decision while I'm in the middle of teaching The Odyssey for the fifth or sixth time. That text never gets old, with its questions of what it means to be a good human being, and its pursuit of the peace of home in a world full of monsters and disasters.
My Facebook feed is full of everybody's real-life disasters and joys. If disaster visits me, shouldn't I have spent some time stretching away from the easy comfort zone of the familiar into new territories? I'm not sure that I'm quitting teaching—in fact, I'm considering shifting my teaching to a slightly different age group. I'll still be doing some work with teens, this time as a college application essay tutor. So let us say for now that I'm quitting this particular combination of joys and costs.
I don't know what I'll be doing this time next year. I don't know what the kids will be doing.
But I know a few things:
I am choosing rest.
I am choosing to connect regularly, not just on Facebook, with my friends.
I will be writing more, more often.
I will walk more every day, alone, and with four-year-olds to guide me.
I will spend 10 minutes sitting in my backyard every day watching the plants grow, and listening to the boys play.
I will make a Southern-style Wish Tree—call it a Wish in A Bottle Tree.
I will learn new things and find new ways to teach people.
I was on my way home from watching some of my students present their 8th grade projects a week ago, the evening after I'd declared my intention not to return to EWS next fall. As I drove down the winding, dark road from Chapel Hill to Durham, I found an old mix CD, cryptically labeled "Hip Hop," and put it on. A few tracks in, Aesop Rock's "No Regrets" played, with its propulsive refrain:
You can dream a little dreamIt's time to live the dream, not just dream it. Here we go: more smiles, adventures, and joys unknown.
Or you can live a little dream
I'd rather live it
'cause dreamers always chase
But never get it