Saturday Gave Away

Friday the 13th rounded out this last week which also included a full moon and a lead into the upcoming week before Christmas creating what one meme called a “Teacher Trifecta of Terror” (it can be kind of scary for parents too).

Friday was actually pretty lucky for me. There were no meltdowns. Everyone got most of their work done. And, for the first time all week, I got to bed before one in the morning.

Teaching has turned into the toughest, best job I’ve ever had. The nature of our school population combined with a nationwide teacher shortage has translated into opportunities to take on more challenging responsibilities early on in my new career. The only drawback is that, some weeks, everything — creativity, fitness, diet, sleep — gets moved from the backseat to the spare.

Friday night, though, I headed out with a plan. Dinner, then Art, then sleep, followed by a day of creativity on Saturday. But, as I fought my heavy eyelids as I drove home, I felt the itinerary change. I got home and, in between moments of shut-eye interrupted by an iPad or iPhone falling to the floor, I managed to make myself a lovely burnt supper before passing out and bumping the rest of my itinerary to what I promised myself would be a “makers“ Saturday.

I kicked off Saturday, however, with an impromptu contest of “you get up first“ with my husband. After a late breakfast and laundry folding, I was determined to hit the studio. Lethargy has other ideas, keeping me on the couch long enough for the orange cat to settle on my lap (which everyone knows, by law, means staying in that exact same position until kitty is ready to move again). The day was ticking away, and guilt turned into doubt.

The sun set, and after a miraculously unburnt dinner, I thought I had just wasted one of the only unscheduled Saturdays we’ve had in months.

But the funny thing about brains is that letting them nap for a day is a lot like finally getting an overtired toddler to sleep. There’s a lot of fussing getting it to quiet. When it starts to wake up again, it can be disoriented and cranky at first, but then it really starts to acknowledge the recharge and wants to be friends again.

Mine fired up last night again about most peoples normal bedtime. After hours vegetating and dozing in front of the TV, sketchbooks started calling from down the hall. I retrieved a pad and a journal From the studio. For the next hour, my pen scratched, whispering ideas in my ear faster than I could scribble them, and reminding me that sometimes clearing your head — and your day – can be an act of creativity too.

Waylaid

I had a mountain of paperwork waiting for me at home, so when I got the text last night that a mountain of sand at the top of our driveway was blocking the last 900 feet of my trip home, I groaned. All I wanted to do was to get my work done and go to bed, but suddenly there was time to kill. It wasn’t what I wanted, but it soon turned out to be just what I needed.

I drove around for a little while and finally pulled into the parking lot at the Wayside Country Store 5 minutes from the house. It was well past sundown and the light from the store cast a warm glow on the slushy snow. As I pushed the door open, the smell of roasting chicken blasted my senses, followed immediately by the aroma of baking scones and cookies.

Normally I go to the drinks aisle or the kitchen supplies to grab what I need and go. Tonight, however, I headed toward the deli where the gingham oil cloth-covered roundtable serves as a meeting place for farmers and contractors on their way to work in the mornings and knitters and time-killers like myself in the evenings and on the weekends.

The guy who normally plows our driveway was sitting there, recounting the tale of how the sand came rest at the top of our driveway, and I sat down, suddenly feeling an unexplainable smile emerge. Another friend was sitting at the table listening, and we talked about goings on around town. Talk turned to the quality of heat from the various woodstoves that were waiting for us at home. The sound of food being made in the deli was our background music, and I thought of how rare simple, comfy moments like this are – especially on a work night when the world outside our doors is at odds with itself. And, as suddenly as my schedule had changed, so did my mood as I realized I was glad to have been waylaid at the Wayside.

To Every Purpose

My journey to teaching began as a selfish impulse. I wanted to do something more meaningful and useful, but I also wanted more time for creativity.

Yes, you read that right. I went into teaching because I wanted more time.

Are you finished laughing at that yet?

I was still giggling about it as I sat at my desk on Thanksgiving eve wrapping up dishes and a last minute IEP.

Now as I write this, it’s the last minute of the last night of Thanksgiving vacation. I’m watching a winter storm bury us under at least 10 inches of snow as I try to figure out lesson plans for tomorrow.

I’ve also earmarked a little time tonight — and each day for the foreseeable future —- for blogging, always made a little longer because I illustrate most of my posts. The reality is, however, that I can’t complain about not having time for creativity. I can complain about having to squeeze creative writing into my day, but my day is nothing if not filled with the creative challenges of getting kids to engage with something other than an iPhone.

I heard a line in a movie recently that if you go to teaching, you give all your creative energy away to the kids. I don’t think that’s true. I think you give away time, but I think using that energy all the day is like exercising a muscle. It doesn’t get used up– it gets stronger.

I know the work-life balance will sort itself out as I get more experience, but, for now, I’m learning to distinguish when I am having trouble being creative and when I’m simply having trouble finding the time to exercise it exactly the way I want on a certain day.

What the Heart Needs

One of the ironies of my career change to teaching English and Special Ed is that, while I feel that an English teacher should be writing with every spare minute of time (and feel more confident about writing than any other skill), in the few minutes of each day that I devote to creativity, I end up drawing.

It is what the heart wants, even if the head is saying I should/need to write. Part of me wonders if one of the pitfalls (or blessings depending on how you look at it) of a career that demands so much emotion and thought and writing is that, at the end of the day, there is only room for the emotional release that is drawing or painting.

I recently came across a letter from Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo. He had just received oil paints from his brother, and, during the year of waiting for the paint, had devoted himself to drawing. In the letter he mentioned how grateful he was for the time to draw, it helped him see the beauty in the paint so much better.

For my part, this last month of drawing has helped me see the beauty in my students and my life even better. It is not writing, but it is still a conversation with life.

I don’t know if the next season of creativity will feature brushes or strokes on the keyboard, but I do know that the main goal is to keep the conversation going, one way or another.

Selfless self-care

One of the things I’m loving about teaching is that it takes every fiber of your being to do it well. It takes your creativity, your intellect, and your physical input. There’s no way to half-ass it and have any worthwhile outcome. One of the things I love about the place where I teach came as a bit of a surprise to me. During our orientation, the different presenters emphasized the importance of self-care for teachers and caregivers at our school.

All of the students at our residential come to us because of an emotional disturbance due to some sort of complex trauma.. Being affective with the students means being present, and, often, it means hearing stories that, when you get home, bring you to tears. it means having kids yell at you as they vent their frustrations with life and remembering not to take it personally. It means thinking about the people who have done these kids harm and trying not to become hard because becoming hard means you can’t be there for those kids.

I haven’t gone to an hour of the school organized group self-care sessions, but, about a month ago, not knowing why exactly except to save money on health insurance, I decided to start going to a gym. I hit the big 5O back in April and knew that keeping bone density up means doing some resistance training, but the desire to work out was something else. It wasn’t until this weekend that I realized what it was.

I’d behave myself all week, hitting the gym for each of my routines every single day before going home. Sometimes that means getting home a bit late, especially on the days when we have professional development after classes. It also means feeling a little guilty that, in focusing on self care each day, I’m not doing right by one of the two kids who is the most important in my life. I get home feeling more relaxed, but I’m spending less time with him to do so.

This weekend my husband, Thing2 and I have been stacking wood. we have a pretty good system of me carrying logs from the wood pile to a wheelbarrow where Thing2 hands them off to the Big Guy for stacking the way he likes. Ferrying logs, two and four at a time, is it pretty good workout. normally I’d be pretty tired and ready to quit after 15 or 20 minutes. Yesterday and today, however, I was able to keep it going until the boys are ready to quit, and I was happy not just for being able to keep up but because it was another hour each day that the three of us had to talk and joke and sing along to the Beatles albums that were playing as we stacked.

When we finished up for the day a little while ago, we looked at the work we’ve done and then at each other and said to each other, “We done good.“

and I realized that self-care isn’t just about being able to help the kids at school every day, it’s about making sure that when I’m home with my kid, I am really present.