Friday, April 3, 2015

Beginnings and Ends and Murky Emotions. . . and Hugs

A post in which I bury the lead. You'll see what I mean. 

I've been playing catch-up all week at work, trying to be sure my students can complete their research papers and be ready for final exams despite my absence last week. And I've been processing a full range of emotions over my quickly approaching retirement, emotions that are layered over the usual frustrations and concerns and occasional small joys that surface at this end of the academic calendar every single term. In this penultimate week of classes, I'm generally already assessing what I could have done better, mentally tweaking the syllabus for next time 'round, redesigning assignments to make them more effective. It's odd not to have that outlet. A relief, you might think, to know that I'm done, and yes, there is that, but there's also some sadness. Something more, truth be told, although I think I won't delve too deeply into the residual sense of failure. Some dispiritedness.

 Eventually, much of this, I hope, will fade, and I'll remember instead the students who wrote me lovely thank-you notes, who emailed long after class ended to tell me what they enjoyed in our work together. One young woman, especially, who I crossed paths with on campus. Her journey to university had been a tough one, years of foster care followed by years of living on the street, but she'd got herself into my classroom and she was willing to work hard. She'd never completed an entire novel -- never actually read any whole book -- before that 1st-year English class, and she wrote me a note later that told me how much it meant to her. She claimed that I helped her develop "reading stamina," and I guess I'd count that as valuable as any other lesson I might have hoped to impart over the years.

She's taken to dropping by my office, once or twice a term, just to let me know how her classes are going, now that she's approaching the latter half of her degree. I hadn't seen her for a few weeks though, when we crossed paths the other day, and I was hurrying to another building, mentally rehearsing how I'd begin my next class, so I didn't have time to chat. And she was caught up in a conversation, speaking into her cellphone as she headed to the parking lot. Her trajectory was uphill, mine was down; the slope is enough here that my pace always picks up and I have to watch my step when I cut across the grassy edge of the hill. So I was nod-smile-waving a bit distractedly, almost past her, when I heard her say into the phone, "Just a minute. There's someone here that I have to hug."

And so we did. And she has no idea how long that hug will last. . . 

Off today, me and my mixed emotions, to catch up with family in Vancouver. All five of our grandchildren will be assembled there. I think they might bring their parents as well. My sister is hosting an Easter Brunch and Egg Hunt in her beautiful heritage home whose kitchen they have just renovated -- I think she's a bit shocked that 47 people (all family: my siblings and their partners, kids, kids' partners, and grandkids) have promised to be there. It may be the last time we're all together before one of my daughters moves to Rome with her partner and our dear little granddaughter. Which, yes, may also explain some of the emotional tempest of late. More on this later. I have a ferry to catch. 

35 comments:

  1. Doesn't it sometimes feel like here is entirely too much LIFE in life? Do you ever ask yourself why you can't be allowed to immerse yourself in the run-up to retirement, the regrets, the successes - to process it all and then celebrate (and be feted by colleagues)? Why isn't it possible to completely dive into the increasing joys of grandmother-hood? Why does it all come at once? ..... And a daughter moving to Rome....really, in some circles that would be event enough for an entire season. I sense how overwhelming it all is, but know from reading your posts that you also revel in the richness of it all. I wish you and your beautiful, growing family the best of Easters. Just think!......a daughter (a home base?!?) in Rome!

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    1. I'm so glad you can see through my muddling to my understanding that all is rich and wonderful even in its too-muchness. I do wish for some slower immersion, some savouring, time to process. I wish I could turn the dial down just enough that I could figure out how to keep up. But I do revel, and I look forward to learning Rome with loved ones as guides. Every joy to you and your family this Easter--you, too, I know, are experiencing more than you might want to of life's intensity.

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  2. "Reading stamina" is a priceless gift. Those of us who were "bookworm girls" take it for granted. Probably even wanted to discard it at one time or other! The end of "paid work" will come and someone else will teach the course but your gifts will stay with your students forever. It's lovely that your extended family is getting together for Easter. Especially with the new additions. Happy Easter and I'm sure that you will use your newfound time to visit Rome often!

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    1. From one bookworm to another, thank you and Happy Easter! Yours will be glorious in that place that celebrates it so colourfully!

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  3. I'm going to zero in on the bombshell at the end - yes, you will be sad to see them move, but are you thinking what I'm thinking? Christmas in Rome!! Heck, take any excuse to go!

    This is all very bittersweet for you, but you truly have a lot to be proud of going into retirement. The story of your former student is a case in point, that was so sweet.

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    1. It's surprising how intensely we can feel two seemingly conflicting emotions at once. I was genuinely thrilled, excited, when we heard that my son-in-love had got the job in Rome and I'm really excited about visiting there as often as possible. And sad that the cousins won't be able to get together regularly...

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  4. There's so much in this post - the anguish and joy of life and the realization that there is always change to deal with. Some of the change we anticipate and plan for, other change comes upon us and we deal with it as best we can. Pondside's expressed it all so well.
    Wishing you a very Happy Easter with your family and strength of mind (and body) to finish your academic year well.

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    1. Amis, Lorrie. Yes, Pondside really caught it. It's Life, and it's full and rich and rewarding and challenging. I know you and your family will celebrate a joyful Easter together. It's a spiritual feast that obviously captures all those complexities we speak of here. Rejoice!

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  5. No! I can't believe that! Is Nola moving?

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    1. Not Nola. Francesca...I think her name may have been a clue

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    2. By which I meant to say that with hat name,I'm should have realized the girl might end up in Italy. Just didn't anticipate it would be so soon.

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  6. Not Nola!??!! I'm feeling a sense of loss myself!

    As a professor you've affected the lives of countless students. Some, like the young woman who hugged you, you know about, some you don't, because they never told you. I joined Facebook a couple of years ago to keep in touch with relatives. I also found a group from my high school and one from my elementary school. In the latter, there have been a few conversations about Mr. S___, my sixth-grade teacher. He was an anomaly in a Catholic school where almost all the teachers were nuns. We shared the old memories - we all had to learn the Notre Dame fight song, he would throw erasers at misbehaving kids, he assigned essays with strange topics. But most of us had stories about how he had affected us. In my case, he made me believe that I could be a scientist. Around 1960. In a lower-middle-class neighborhood where most adults had not been to college. He had a long teaching career, most of it spent in an all-boys Catholic high school. I am sure that quite a few students let him know how much he had helped them, but I never did. We moved away from the neighborhood, which rapidly deteriorated (in Detroit), I went to high school and college, then moved to the east coast for grad school. Married, had a career, had kids. Always busy. I wish I had.

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    1. Indirectly, Marie, you have let him know, or at least let those of us who teach know that sometimes we make a difference even when it hasn't been articulated. Thanks for taking the time to do that. It matters.

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    2. I have to mention that I saw footage on the news of African American teachers in Atlanta being taken to jail, after conviction and before sentencing, at the order of a very harsh judge. They were convicted of cheating on the awful standardized tests that have taken over American elementary schools. I felt like crying. Melissa Harris-Perry pointed out that only one financial person went to jail after all the banking/investment scandals. Yet they're throwing the book at teachers who certainly felt awful pressure to have their students "perform." I've met dozens of teachers as my sons went through school, and I feel affection, respect, and gratitude toward almost every one (there were a couple of bad ones). It's a shame that teaching is becoming so difficult on all levels. You should know that there's a lot of warm feelings from parents as well as students.

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  7. Pondside's thoughts and words are echoed here too...
    As a seasoned teacher you must know what a strong influence you have had on your students...they may not be the ones to stop by for a visit or give you a hug, but they will be remembering you for years long after you've retired.
    Enjoy your weekend with your precious family...it must be hard to see your daughter and grand daughter move away...Skype comes in handy and perhaps Rome would be a lovely spot to have a vacation!

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    1. Thanks, L. We are definitely planning to visit Rome! And I suspect we'll become much more reliant on FaceTime or Skype. Wishing you a glorious Easter with your family!

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  8. She hugged you! Receive every loving drop of appreciation and hold it to you. You will give your gifts to others, F., I just know you will, from the community to your family's homes. Because you're like that.

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    1. Thank you, K. I truly appreciate the confidence, drawing some of the same validation from it as I did from that hug. Happy Easter!

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  9. This post has struck a very personal chord with me. I too am involved in " scholarly teaching" and on a "downward trajectory" . I am now at the stage when the "latest" fads in education are actually fads that I have witnessed before in various guises and more frightening, fads that have failed to deliver! It is definitely time I too retire , but after a lifetime of being involved in education, it is a frightening concept.
    I look at the young teachers and students and can't help but contrast their possible successes and bright futures with my journey in education. What in my professional career would I have done differently and what would I have not changed?
    My thoughts are with you and I wish you happiness and success in the next phase of your life.

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    1. It's tough, isn't it? I have no interest in hearing myself settle into a negative perspective on change. As much as I might be sure about ill-conceived directions, I know my comments won't bring about any action (nor slow any down). I'm glad I have the option to leave at a relatively positive time...hope you can do that too.

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  10. I hear your sorrow at endings, and seems they must be felt before the joy at beginnings can commence.

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    1. Yes, and sometimes the two simply overlap...

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  11. Retired people can go on long long visits to Rome, but it won't be the same, and the same was pretty darn good. Oh dear, change is so hard!

    Ceci

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    1. Yes it is, Ceci, and it's a privilege as well, I suppose.

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  12. So much change swirling around you! You capture those feelings of relief and sadness and might-have-beens so beautifully.

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  13. So much richness! So much craziness! On the brink of new phase, Mater. Enjoy. Hug and be hugged.

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    1. So much goes better with a hug, right?

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  14. I'm slow on the draw; •Nola• is moving? Well, that requires trips to Rome, with leisurely stays and plenty of pictures. We need that! Despite mourning the end of an era, your retirement is very well-timed.

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    1. Not Nola. See above. Running now but had to clarify quickly...

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    2. Francesa is a sweetie, too... thanks for the clarification. Don't we wish we could keep all of them, children and grandchildren, nearby? But the world is bigger.

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  15. So much here, endings and beginnings all in a swirl of too-muchness. Amazing how that happens sometimes, too much and too many layers and not enough time to process, and then the lulls in between, and wishing it could balance out. It does of course, but not in the way we think we would wish it because the very essence of being engulfed in the endings and beginnings brings its own kinds of experience. You are richer for it. And you shall miss holding that girl so close, but treasure your combined new experiences, and somehow it seems you family will make the effort to hold those bonds close.

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  16. Yes, it's surprising that this kind of confluence should still be surprising. Life has done this before and will do it again and it does balance out somehow although not necessarily in any way I might predict. It's definitely real . . .

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  17. You catch the strange conflicting emotions so well. Life is overwhelming sometimes and you do long for a bit of time to process things when you are being swept out on the rushing tide. One of the wonderful things about having a large number of children (we have four too) is that when they marry and have children there is a whole wonderful range of chances to be involved in their lives, but sometimes it feels that there is simply not enough time for it all. I wish I could have forty eight hour days with lots of time for sleeping and solitude as well as people!

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    1. It is wonderful, the submersive nature of the larger family (my mom and dad had 12 of us, and I continue to wonder retrospectively how they ever managed the grandchildren connections that they did). Wonderful but sometimes pretty intense -- so wonderful that there's not much room for complaining and yet there's some genuine fatigue in there! both physical and emotional and yes, I sometimes wish I could call a Time Out! And then someone up and moves her family to Rome (!) . . . ;-)

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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