The Two Reasons I "Retired"
Saying goodbye. That’s never come easily for me. Especially when it's time to let go of parts of my life that have largely defined, shaped, edified, and even challenged me. Nearly thirty years ago, I slammed on the brakes from the fast-track advertising world, pulled a u-ey, and headed down the "so you want to be an elementary teacher" lane.
With no regrets, I've spent many a day with kids half my height and plenty who surpassed my 5'3" stature by the 6th grade. Tucked into my cerebral file cabinet are stories about kids—their antics that make me belly laugh until I cry, and others unfortunately, that make me cry until my heart breaks. Fortunately, most of my teaching memories bring a smile and have that uncanny ability to send a little tingle of joy from head to heart—I'd call that a career worth celebrating.
But all good things must come to an end . . . right? Someone said it and I suppose it's true.
So, when I wrestled with the idea to stop teaching, hand over the key, both literally and metaphorically to my beautiful art room at Aspen Academy, in just as lovely Greenwood Village, Colorado, it took a bit of doing—kind of like going to the mat with a Sumo wrestler. But the siren’s call to remain in the classroom was no longer a match for the author and artist yearnings. Finally, the classroom teacher had to call "Uncle".
Allowing the school plenty of time to find a new art teacher, I gave my personal eviction notice to the higher-ups near the halfway mark of the school year (now I know why two week notices were invented). To help matters, I carried a roll of duck tape for those occasions when I wanted to grab the PA system and plead guilty to the parents and kids about my monumental decision to pull a sharp right and head off in a new direction.
But as time has its way, it felt like a long stretch of months that the waves of change crashed along the shoreline of my hard-earned educational career, methodically washing away and reshaping what would soon be the new landscape of my "retired" life. In another way, the year flew by, giving truth to the proverbially “blink of an eye”.
The highly anticipated, last day of school arrived—traditionally crowned with Graduation and Field Day. My first group of kids five years ago now comprised the 8th grade graduating class. I braced myself for the potential downpour of emotions that had been held up for so many months. I figured the ceremonial songs, followed by the goodbyes from the much-loved parents and kids would do me in. After lots of squeezes and hugs, I stood in a colleague's classroom and, strangely, I was fine.
Until . . . I was deciding which of my personally owned picture books were deemed worthy enough for me to haul home to sleep in my basement for way-in-the-future grandchildren. Now, some people have a hard time parting with t-shirts bought thirty years ago at a rock concert (okay...I'm dating myself), but detaching myself from picture books is right up there with getting your fingers stuck together with Super Glue.
One book in particular, 100 Things to Spot in a Castle, definitely made the cut. I ran my hand over the cover—the detailed and colorful illustration hadn't faded from my memory for nearly 20 years. I flipped to the inside title page. Scrawled in my handwriting: To Ian, Christmas 1998 Love, Mommy and Daddy. I lost it! Tears came as though Winnie the Pooh's Little Black Raincloud had floated into the room and released directly over my head.
That’s when Reason #1 for leaving my job slapped me like a face full of ice water. Even though my oldest of three sons would soon turn 22, my heart longed for more time with my family, and to be honest, to eek any bit of motherhood from the waning years of the blessed job to raise children. It was that simple.
It wasn't that I was now too old to teach, or I had finally attained the sought after number of years in education to retire and live in the lap of luxury (ha!). No, I merely longed at a level deep enough that it unhinged the day-in and day-out strides of the classroom life to the point that I finally recognized my life’s imbalance.
Those few little words, penned eighteen years ago in my son’s picture book, threw me the raft I had been seeking without taking the time to admit I was drowning in the rush and overload of my daily life.
Reason #2 wasn't quite as quintessential, though its punch was just as powerful (and I spared you from a visual image). The graduation ceremony was at a rather moving part with all the pomp and circumstance in full stride. Being that it was Field Day, I was sporting a tennis skirt of sorts—not my nerdy, long denim shorts (pointed out by my teenage sons!), but the length that though stylish, betrayed my years.
Tristan, a child as honest as they come, decided he'd heard enough of the 8th grade graduate names and was more fascinated with the web of spider veins that coursed the side of my thigh. While sitting next to me, he gently and with great curiosity, ran his forefinger along the blue squiggly lines as if navigating the best way to summit Mt. Everest on a topographical map.
"What are those?" He raised his blond tussled forehead, hazel eyes open wide.
"They're called spider veins. That's what happens when you get older." I smiled, considering whether I should stretch my skirt length so as not to traumatize the poor child any further.
He wrinkled his nose. "Oh, that's gross." Finally, he turned back to the progression of graduates filling the length of the stage.
For a moment, and I can honestly say it was a nanosecond (whatever that is—hey, I taught Language Arts and Art, not Science), I stood on the precipice of embarrassment—ashamed of my lack of what was once young, but no longer resided in my physical form.
Instead, an odd but refreshing feeling of complete acceptance washed over me. If any embarrassment for my body's less than stellar elements or denial that I wasn't a spring chicken any longer (not the cute young teacher who made the middle schoolers' "Hot" teacher list back in early 90's), instead, evaporated like the morning mist . . . gone. Like a wave washing over me, I was refreshed—bathed in complete acceptance of the present and offering an outstretched bear hug for my future.
I remember smiling at that moment amidst the sobs of parents watching their babies grow up and venture on. A few teachers wiped away loose tears, perhaps from the moving ceremony, but my guess was from end-of-year exhaustion.
But for me, I was free. Tristan's transparent comment was like the final gust of wind I needed to break from the harbor of what I knew and what was safe and familiar. In that moment, I cut the rope and sailed on the gentle and exhilarating breeze to the continued journey of my life.
Thanks for letting me share a part of my journey. Care to share a cataclysmic event, or that subtle nudging sent you skipping headlong in a new direction?