Monday, March 20, 2017

Now and Next

Good morning.

I can report that I am back behind my desk at school. My children are tucked safely in their classrooms. I am surrounded by teenagers, coffee in my hand, & all is well with the world. I missed the teens a great deal. For a variety of reasons, they were never far from my mind during the week of our separation. I was grading their essays, so there was that, but also gems like this:

And this:

This is probably the most excited I've ever been to see the end of Spring Break. I'm going to recap our break for you, complete with pictures of the children. I am aware of the dearth of pictures of the children on the blog these last few weeks & will rectify that today. After the recap, I think I have a few things to say to the seniors. There are some things in my head; momentarily we'll see how successfully I can mold those thoughts into words. 

I told you last Monday morning we were headed to Jackson to see the endocrinologist. That went well. Reagan's most recent A1C was a 7.4. This was a slight uptick from December's 7.2, but I was happy for a number under eight; a number over eight was what I feared & expected after what I can only describe as sheer chaos about a month ago where Reagan's numbers were concerned. 

The Spring Break errands merriment continued Tuesday with haircuts for everyone. This was Henry's first haircut. I know you're wondering, but no, no I was not overly emotional. Let me explain. Often evenings slip away & suddenly it's nine o'clock & I realize I am hungry because I never ate dinner. Such a situation arose Monday night. Usually the forgotten-dinner scenario unfolds on a school night & so I eat a few almonds or a spoonful of peanut butter & I'm so exhausted I fall asleep before hunger returns. However, when the hunger pains came Monday night I decided since I wasn't facing the five am alarm Tuesday morning, I'd take myself out (by which I mean through the window at Scott's to get fried shrimp & turnip greens like the fancy lady I am). 

Giddy over the prospect of eating a hot dinner alone in my car, I jumped in the Highlander and was greeted with this.

I don't think I even need to explain how this happened. You know me well enough to know I don't let that gauge fall much past half a tank. To summarize: Trey drove to Jackson & back. I stewed for a minute & decided I really wanted the shrimp & turnip greens, but this meant I had to get gas, & so this is the story of how I found myself pumping a tankful of gas after dark (yes, my revolver in the front pocket of my hoodie) so I might fulfill my dream of late night Spring Break fried shrimp & turnip greens. 

Between the late dinner & my festering anger over the gas situation, I stayed up way, way too late reading & thus was so exhausted during Henry's inaugural haircut I was numb to my emotions. I did take a few pictures. 

Wednesday morning there was more excitement than I typically care for before I've had my coffee; Reagan announced she'd lost another tooth. The Tooth Fairy has yet to visit our home, however, because Reagan doesn't want to part with the tooth. This works for me because the Tooth Fairy has a nasty habit of relying on her plastic credit card most of the time. 

Thursday & Friday were considerably more low key. We didn't have any appointments, which is always awesome. We visited the Chick-fil-A drive through. We lounged around the house. We began to see the wisdom & beauty in the routine of school. 

Over the break I laid out six weeks of plans. Including today, I have five Mondays left with the seniors. There are six weeks of school remaining (for the seniors), but we're out the Monday after Easter. I looked at the calendar last week, tears in my eyes, & tried to remember my final weeks of high school. I have a few vague memories. Admittedly none of those memories involve what was happening in my English class. I have to tell you this is the most thoughtful, careful planning I've ever done in preparation for teaching. 

I've blathered on & on for weeks about Emma Thompson's masterful, award-winning film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. I decided it would be wrong to hype it up as I have & then never show it to them, so I've set aside a few days for that, however, with only six weeks in this quarter (as opposed to the usual eight or nine), we cannot do anything simply for pleasure without taking a grade, so I have composed a lovely & detailed worksheet to accompany the film. Truly there are so many characters in Austen's novels whether you read them or watch a film, or both, you need a worksheet to keep all the characters straight. 

As soon as the film's credits roll, we're going to do a fast march through the Victorian era, reading some of Tennyson's poems & discussing the lives & literary contributions of Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll, George Eliot, & the Bronte sisters. Then we'll end the year with the bleakest novel imaginable, Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. We'll all be crying for a whole new reason then. 

My AP class is, as always, this whole other thing. There's this pressure there that keeps me on my toes but also makes me a little crazy. The pressure's name, if we're going to get specific, is Jack the Advanced Placement Literature & Composition Exam that the fifteen of them will take the first week in May. They're not reading a novel or anything else right now so much as they're writing analysis after analysis.

For the remaining six weeks the plan for AP is to intersperse timed, in-class writing with reviewing novels they've read over the last four years, novels they will have to recall with clarity in order to answer the open question on the AP Exam. What, you ask, is the open question? This links to the open questions that have appeared on the test since 1970, including some of the alternate questions. Go look! Anyway, this is the plan as of now, but they are collectively a lot smarter than I am, a few of them can be incredibly persuasive, & when you factor in my unstable emotions over these last weeks we have together, they could probably persuade me to take them to Disney World so who knows what the plan will be next week. 

As I looked at the calendar last week I stared at today's date with a smile on my face. I am happy it has arrived. I know it will be a flash & be over, as is every day with these wonderful young people. I knew I had to woman up & move past my gushy, anticipatory feelings regarding a reunion & figure out how to fill the six weeks remaining to us with something fun yet substantive (I mean to me, British literature is fun but substantive).

Reagan always wants to know what holiday is next. Before Christmas even arrives, she wants to know what's next, & how many weeks until it arrives. A new toy enthralls her for about five minutes before its newness is gone, & she's set her sights on the next item she covets. Watching her, & watching & interacting with these seniors, it is abundantly clear that growing up is learning to balance now & next. You can't think so intently about next that you miss now; you can't completely shut out thoughts of next because you're consumed by now

I am not going to do this, but I could draw a nice visual, a scale of now to next, & place each seniors' name somewhere on that continuum. The Next gang made themselves known early, texting me begging for edits to scholarship essays on an October day I spent alternately vomiting & explaining I'd read essays when the nausea abated. I guess one reason I identify with them is because I too am a Next gal, always thinking one day, one week, one month ahead. And, I suppose you can't help but bond with someone to whom you explain, "Okay, but after the vomiting ceases." 

The Nows are dear to me, too. They don't always remember when we have a test. They don't always read what's assigned to them. They don't think about Next as often as they should. They require me to be a different sort of teacher than the Next crowd, & there are days I am so thankful for the Now bunch because they sometimes seem to genuinely need me, & there's nothing more affirming than to feel you're genuinely needed. The absence of stress in their lives, on their faces, is refreshing, though there are times I have to encourage them to feel a wee bit of stress about things they ought to be doing.

The above quote is from Stephen King's The Dark Tower. It came to mind when I was forcing myself to look past today's date on the calendar, to think beyond the smiles & hugs that will dominate today & look to the precious few days ahead. I want so desperately to be a Now person today, & for these next few weeks. I don't want to think a lot about Next; I want to luxuriate in the quiet of right now. I want Now to be still.

Where they may differ in their approach to schoolwork & planning for college, the seniors all, like Reagan in her holiday-anticipation, have been (& remain) consumed by Next where life & the passage of time are concerned. They want to graduate. They want their summer. They want to plunge headlong into the wide world of college, of adulthood, of life. They want to feel the sweet release of breaking free of the chains of parochial school, chains they perceive to have fettered them lo these many years. 

Please, please, seniors, if you listen to me at no other time, listen to me right now: Enjoy these next six weeks. Be a Now for the next six weeks. Be a Now with me while the opportunity presents itself, because it will not come again. Time will march on, I promise you. You will soon be students I taught (note that verb tense . . . we've talked about paying attention to verb tense). Make the most of every week, every day, we have left together. Do your work. Be kind. Be respectful. Smile at your teachers. If you need to mend fences, mend them. 

My graduating class lost a member to a fatal blood clot a few years after we left OCS. He was one of my dearest friends during the time I spent at OCS; he kept me in stitches & largely defined my final two years of high school, which were absolutely wonderful. In a twist of life Edgar Allan Poe would appreciate, our old lockers are right outside the room where I now teach. I pass his sweet face on the wall every morning as I walk my kids to their classrooms; it is a daily reminder of how precious every day we're given is. Sometimes, on mornings when I am particularly tired, I don't let my eyes meet his.

The pictures below were taken in the spring of 1998, weeks before I graduated high school. Some of you were babies; some of you had not yet been born. It is unbelievable to me that these pictures were not taken yesterday, that I have two kids, bills to pay, a mortgage, & he has a son who likely has no memories of him. I share all this to impress upon you to wrap yourself up in Now, in today, to walk across the stage in May with no regrets about how you spent your time or the way you treated people. If you have regrets now, you have six brand new weeks ahead of you during which to mend fences. Get to it. I love you.


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