Today was pretty much a “last day” for me. I said my “good-byes” to my classes. And I broke my personal rule. I don’t cry at school. No matter how bad the story, sad the situation, emotionally draining the experience, I am not going to cry in school.
Except for when I thought my dad was dying. Then I was allowed to cry in school.
Or the time when I was betrayed and undermined by someone. I cried that day too. Out of absolute fury.
I know that my colleagues probably would say that I cry all the time. In my defense, my definition of crying is tears rolling down the cheeks. Anything other than that is not crying. Sure, my eyes will fill with tears, but I will control myself and will not even rub my eyes. I will not cave.
Today, I caved. I crumpled. I crumbled and broke and felt all my inner columns and support beams do this lovely plie (ballet term…I even looked up how to spell this word) and everything just started to turn into this emotional jumble.
This has been, hands down, the best year of my career. Now, I can hear some serious levels of former students clearing their throats and saying mental Excuse me?. Darlings. Beloveds. My adopted sons and daughters. I am not forgetting you. I can’t. I have your memories wrapped around my heart like DNA double helixes. You are the legacy, the stepping stones of what has led to the joys and successes of this year.
But this has been an incredible year. My research on student-apathy led me to make some huge changes in my teaching which led me to be able to do work that I would never have thought possible. I finally found a good middle ground between work and labor. I also feel like I made my own personal breakthroughs in terms of understanding my students.
Earning Teacher of the Year was a beautiful capstone to this year. But it is not what has defined this year.
No, that is reserved for a picture with seventeen students. That is reserved for a beautiful young woman wrapping her hands around her face and weeping. That is reserved for the students who have come to me and given me their stories and their dreams and their hopes and their fears and their vulnerabilities and called me Mom or Mama C.
Today, I hugged more students than I ever expected. Because I took the last twenty minutes of each class to show videos, specifically “Unbroken” which is a motivational speech, not the Angelina Jolie film. And then I showed the “Everybody Wear Sunscreen” video…the graduation speech by Kurt Vonnegut. Because they told my students what I wanted them to hear one last time: that they are loved and valuable and that they need to see that they are loved and valuable. But, if that wasn’t enough, I did my impromptu speech in which I wish them well.
Today, my fledglings fled the tips of my fingers and the runways on my palms. Today, I held my hands over my head and said “Love you! Mean it!” one last time before my babies walked out the door one last time. And I stayed in my classroom, in the center of my carousel, and I didn’t weep.
But the tears kept running into the dams of my eyelids. And I didn’t let them spill over. But I couldn’t stop rubbing at my eyes. Because I needed to. Because if I didn’t, I was going to let the sea fall over the levees and I was going to drown in the beauty of my joy and the bitterness of my grief.
They are leaving. And I am so very happy for them because I see the paths of their successes brilliantly glowing like stepping-stones of promises. I can also see the spikes, the obstacles, the teeth that lie ready to chew up these incredible people and spit them back onto their paths.
My beloved children, you are beyond the reach of my hands. But not my shadow. I might not have as much of a presence as we have shared these last nine months, but I can still summon the strength to pick you up, dust you off, and put you back on your road.
If you need, I’ll hold your hand for a few steps. But I know to keep a loose grip. It’s time for you to run away.
Love you. Mean it.
Now, where’s my Kleenex?