The sky is dusky in this quiet morning hour and I woke up early but unhurried and able to ponder this one precious day in front of me. My mission is threefold: breathe, bake, savor. Our kids, scattered for the day, will gather this evening for dessert and games. Between here and there are hours to stretch and breathe, taste and touch, a rhythm that allows the luxury of time to sit at the keyboard and put words to feelings.
Last evening we were in the grocery when my engine went dry. I was suddenly, overwhelmingly, aware that I was done. Done. Like a toddler on the precipice of a total meltdown, I implored my dear one to get us home stat. She laughed, but it was a knowing laugh. We finished quickly and I fell into bed with the groceries still on the counter. This has been the rhythm in recent weeks, a blur of exhaustion. To awaken today with some awareness of space before me is delicious gift and I sit at the keyboard savoring this moment of restedness.
A year ago I was still pastoring at a suburban church where I’d been serving for 16 years. I was good at my job and, after 23 years in ministry, had reached a professional level of competence which allowed a certain amount of ease (read: I didn’t know how good I had it!). Now, with my ministry mantle retired, I am teaching a K-2 classroom for children with behavior difficulties (read: hands, feet, and objects in flight). Creating lesson plans is a creative challenge, delivering them a near impossibility, and getting through the day unbruised, well, I don’t.
Although my menopausal body and brain are running on near-empty most of the time these days, it is my heart that has had the biggest workout. Moving from a place of expertise to that of novice is an amazing shift of ego. Having bosses is a new thing after a couple of decades of not (mine are truly amazing, I am very lucky) but the real challenge has been navigating with co-workers. Used to calling the shots, it has been a constant learning curve to find the place that is somewhere between “your way” and “mine”, an essential and yet difficult balance. I know how to defer and I know how to lead, but finding a right-sized place in the middle is a skill that I have not yet mastered and one that I need in a field where our kids desperately need their adults to work as a team. I can only say that we are all trying. We are.
Perhaps what makes the adults edgy with one another is the trauma that comes with our students. Yesterday I had a seven year old arrive stoned (you can’t make this stuff up), though we had no reasonable way to prove it. We documented his physical condition and noted the munchies that came midway through the morning. Inescapable was the shift when the unprescribed medication wore off midday and the child was once again drawing pictures of scantily clad women and sharing private body part jokes with his classmates. When I removed him from the class for being inappropriate, this otherwise very bright child tried to argue that such drawings are indeed appropriate. Tragically, my voice was somewhat novel as I explained to him that his pictures were not. This is a child who should be watching PBS Kids, not playing Grand Theft Auto (his personal favorite). Karen Carpenter sang for little boys like this one, “bless the beasts and the children for in this world they have no voice, they have no choice.” The behaviors that undermine my classroom are simply beacons of the hurt that lies inside my children.
Yet even as my heart opens to this truth, seeing and respecting the pain that each of my children bring, safety (and sanity) dictate that my engagement with my class be far more firm than I would ever chose to be. They need, and deserve, a teacher who is (as my boss says) “firm, fair, and consistent”. My boss is quite masterful at being a kind and loving presence and yet at the same time very clear and firm when the situation warrants. She has a combination of natural gifts and years of experience; I am missing at least one of these and possible both. I am blessed beyond measure, I realize, to come home to my dear one who is also a master teacher. Together we process and slowly I learn. In the meantime, I practice being mindfully present, clearer each day with my expectations, using more awareness and fewer words. Most days I raise my voice at least a couple of times, but some days I remember to whisper, the whispers are far more effective.
The sun has now brightened the sky and my time to ponder at the keyboard is now passed. As I consider the thoughts that pour forth on this Thanksgiving morning, I am struck by the place that humility has taken in the center of my journey. While no stranger to the buzz of hubris and the sting of humiliation, the place in which I labor with my heart and mind and body is largely a place of humility in which I am learning to find the ground beneath my feet and the hands outstretched beside me. And this is very good.
Now, off to the kitchen I go…