“All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.”
― Kenneth Grahame,
Many people criticize teachers for daring to complain about the low pay and long hours. “But you get summers off!” they proclaim, shaking their heads in disgust at just how greedy and ungrateful we teachers can be. I used to become incensed at this, gathering up facts and statistics for just how many extra hours I spend grading and lesson planning per year. I would list all of the hours of professional development, trainings, summer institutes, etc. to prove myself to these people and to remind them that even when I have summers off, I am still on. In fact, I am going in to my classroom today to begin setting up. I will probably be there almost every day until school starts Sept. 6. But guess what? I don’t feel the need to prove anything to anyone anymore. I love my job. I work like crazy all year long. But I also do get summers “off,” and that is a beautiful thing worth celebrating.
Toward the end of a school year, I’ll admit that I feel rundown. I am exhausted like I imagine only new mothers with newborn triplets can understand. The mental, physical, and even spiritual exhaustion that goes from the top of your brain to the tips of your toes is very real and very heavy. Between racing to finish all of the standards, grading senior projects and papers, attending graduation practice, senior awards night, Literary Arts Night, chaperoning prom, report cards, late work, finals, and the actual graduation ceremony, my own two children and husband have to spend the month of June wondering who the irritable zombie is roaming the halls, eating all of the pizza rolls, and falling asleep at 8 o’clock in what used to be Rachel’s bed.
Then the last day of school is here and just like that, I’m cured! Just kidding. I wish it were that easy. But really, it takes a few weeks of catching up on some serious sleep and just having a chance to lie around reading novels of my own choosing. Slowly, I begin to come back into my own. I make sure to keep a daily routine of sorts, because an object in motion and all that. I still wake up and do yoga every morning (which I also do during the school year) and go for walks in the park with friends. I eat healthy, and continue to meal plan and prep. I complete the summer homework I have assigned to my AP students. But I also take time for my family like I am not able to during the rest of the year. That is a precious gift, and something about my chosen career path that leaves me completely and utterly thankful for my blessings. If I didn’t get the opportunity to relax, refresh, and rejuvenate, I might not show up year after year for the hardest work there is: loving and educating the future of our society.
Because I am a teacher, I do get to create once-in-a-lifetime memories with my family without having to worry about being on a strict timeline, or using all of my vacation pay. So at the end of July, my family and I packed up on a road trip that led us through six states in three weeks. We had a vague idea about the timeline, but when people asked what day we’d be back, we simply had to tell them, “When we’re done.” When we set off on our adventure, I wasn’t sure how well the kids would do on a road trip. Would they fight in the backseat the entire time? Would one of them get carsick? Would they ask “Are we there yet?” 3,898,756 times?? (For the record, instead they asked “How much longer?” that many times. Samesies.) But, no matter how stinky or claustrophobic or dirty that ol’ Jeep Compass got along the way, I loved every single minute of this trip. No matter how annoying my kids were (and surprisingly, not very) they were with me. For hours a day, for days on end, for whole entire weeks.
I’ll tell you why this is so remarkable, for you mothers of younger children who would pay good money for an hour of free time and getting to pee without an audience. I was once there too. Now, my kids are at ages where they no longer need me for every single thing. They go outside after school and play in the cul-de-sac with their friends until dinner time, and then ask to go back out until dark. They ask to spend the night at a friend’s house almost every single night of the summer and definitely every weekend during the school year. They are now invited to drop off birthdays and events with other families. They are invited to come along for camping trips and soccer games, and I am left wondering what happened to the years when they were on my hip for eighteen hours a day and would cry the moment I set them down. I don’t miss those days necessarily, but I do miss my kids sometimes. I know they’re playing right out front, but it feels like I don’t always get a chance to meaningfully connect with them these days.
During our trip we visited many different family members, took the kids to Disneyland for the first time, saw the Grand Canyon, Zion, and Bryce Canyon National Parks. All of these adventures were valuable in myriad ways. We were able to spend days upon days laughing and riding roller coasters with our kids. I helped my son overcome his fear and get on the ride anyway, just as I had had to do when I was a child. We were able to look out over the Grand Canyon and stand in awe of this amazing Earth and all of the wonders it holds. We were able to explore Zion and Bryce Canyon, treating every view as another gift that we were lucky enough to receive. We listened to as many different Pandora stations as humanly possible, jamming to everything from Weezer to Taylor Swift to 90’s Hip Hop. We went swimming and sat around camp fires, just the four of us, talking and laughing and gazing up at the stars.
I have a plan to write a more detailed post on each of the places we visited, with tips & tricks I learned along the way, but for now, suffice it to say that these three weeks have left me feeling so grateful for my career, for my summers off, for my family, and for this planet. I am truly in Awe.