Send-Off: What I Wish My Students Knew

Send-Off. noun. Parting words; good wishes for a person starting on another journey.

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They warned me.

They said that Gilead was quiet, uneventful. Just an old man reflecting on his life, leaving letters for his son. Don’t expect much plot. Don’t even expect chapters. They were right.

It was beautiful.

In Gilead, the novel by Marilynne Robinson, John Ames is dying. He leaves behind a young wife and son, and he wants his child to know stories that the boy is not yet ready to hear. He wants to pass on the fear of his grandfather’s one-eyed gaze, the emptiness of the weeks-long walk with his father across the prairie, the simple and deep love for the light bathing the church pews in the morning, the feeling of a baby’s brow beneath his hand. His words breathe forgiveness, and loving friendship, and contentment with long-anticipated family, and gentle lament for an unknown future.

I’ve found myself returning to this book, in ways literal and figurative. The companion book Lila is now in my hands, its pages rounding out the story of John Ames’s wife. His letters, also, roll around in my head. The idea of thoughts shared for later, for when your absence is felt, intrigues me.

I don’t plan on dying anytime soon. But our school year is slipping away, quickly. I will soon say goodbye to the students who have filled my classroom. Like all endings, it is bittersweet.

This is the first class that’s been mine. They know to get their journals on Wednesdays, to find library passes in the checked box, to grab a book reviews on the front table. I’ve tested my nonverbal signals and exit directions and wait time on them. They laugh at mentions of Cookie Monster and chicken. They groan every day when, after interrupting me, they must return quietly to their seats before I dismiss them for lunch. One kid knows me well enough to ask me to solve a math problem so he can laugh at the confusion on my face, my eyebrows scrunched in concentration. Another says that she’s adopted the hand gestures I unconsciously make.

We might not notice each others’ absences right away. It’s likely that they won’t think much on me after June 10. They will move on to eighth grade, then to high school, then to colleges and jobs and children of their own. They will have many more teachers, and the memory of that one tall one from 7th grade will fall away.

My memories of them will fade too. In 20 years, I will have forgotten some of their names. I might not remember the tiny gymnastics leotard one student showed us from 2nd grade, that one family endured a house fire while their student was in my class, that one brought donuts to celebrate her birthday, that one gave a speech on getting lost in life and cried, and that another girl that ran across the room to hug her.

I hope they still read, after they’ve left my room. Some have learned to love books this year. One boy wrote a note telling me so. One girl didn’t consider herself a reader a few months ago, and she’s now reading 2,000 pages a week. It’s easier to decide that you’ll enjoy the 20 minutes we spend reading each day, I guess. Maybe having a teacher shoving book recommendations at you helps, too. For those who don’t love it (because they are legion, and they are loud), maybe, just once this summer, or next year, or on break from college, they’ll shut the screen and crack a book. It will do them good.

I hope they think, too. Much of school get it done, and not think. It’s true in my classroom too often. May their curiosity not be ruined and their minds not be dulled by it. When they can vote, as some of them are so excited to do, I pray that they do their research, that they consider carefully. If given the chance, they ought to vote for my student who read the Constitution one day during independent reading. I sure would. When seeking advice, may they turn to trusted authors and advisors. They will check the credibility of their sources, we can only pray.

I hope they know that they’ll make it through these awkward years. They’re sprouting into teenagers before my eyes. One boy began the year as a kid, who apologized for talking too much and thought school was “kinda fun.” He’s now a teen, with an attitude around his friends. I know his kindness and curiosity will reappear, even in public, someday. The others will learn how to apply eyeliner correctly and to wear pants other than leggings and to turn off Clash of Clans and to not care if others think they’re “cringey.” I have faith.

I hope they know they are valued. In their writing and speeches and their book choices, I see the people they are becoming. They are empathetic. They are funny. They are optimistic (occasionally). They want to be computer engineers and athletic trainers and nurses and authors and fathers and mothers. When they are absent, we notice. Their lives are precious. Even when they feel forgotten, they are not.

These are the things lost in the pre-adolescent brain fog, in my tiredness on Tuesday mornings, in the general insanity of May. I can barely make them stop talking after lunch, much less communicate that I care about more than how many pages they read last week and how many missing assignments they have.

We still have time before we part ways. (Too much, it feels some days.) I pray that in these last lingering days of the school year, in the hours of time we still share, they see a glimpse of truth. Even when they’ve forgotten The Outsiders and my presence and the hush of our room during silent reading, may they remember what I tried, and often failed to teach: Their ideas are important. Their minds are worth cultivating. They matter.

 

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Learned

Learned. verb. To have aquired knowledge or skill through instruction or experience.
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Dear Ms. Christenson,

Two weeks ago, you finished your first half a year as a teacher. You are still breathing. Congratulations.

The weeks since you started passed in a haze. You barely remember the last week of school, much less the past few months. (It’s possible that you’ve blocked it out.) But try to imagine yourself back in the public library at the end of February, itching to start. You had just karate kicked around your kitchen when you found out you got the job. You are planning bell ringers and finding clever classroom rules memes. Your anticipation is bubbling over.You currently believe that:

  • You are remarkably prepared. For everything.
  • Your ability to pay attention in your college education courses and create a lesson plan from which kids might maybe learn something means you will automatically be fine
  • All those people who say that the first year is painful aren’t trying quite enough/don’t have good work-life balance/missed crucial chapters in college textbooks/don’t get enough sleep
  • In terms of classroom management, you are a strong, likeable pillar of consistency
  • Your engaging lessons and winning personality and organizational abilities will cause all memory of the teacher whose class you are taking over to be erased from kids’ minds.
  • You will not cry about school.
  • Or take grading home.
  • Or yell at your class.
  • Or have a student who flips desks over on the last day (literally) because his friend is not present.

You will be wrong. About everything. Mostly.

This adventure will not be what you expect. It will be hard. You dread Monday mornings. Wonder if being unemployed is really so bad after all. Cry. Count the days until summer break.

But you will also learn.

You will learn what works for you as a teacher. Playing music when challenging classes enter the room makes everyone – or at least you – feel slightly less vicious. Planning lessons around what you enjoy, like that lesson comparing a Hamilton song with the historical event it describes, will make you enjoy your work more. Posting directions that kids should begin as soon as they enter the room will (theoretically) result in less wasted time. Reading alongside students during silent reading makes them cooperate more. Your instructional style is still developing, but it’s gaining clarity with every class.

You will learn that your job is not to be liked or to entertain. It is to teach. Your students are in your class to learn. Some days the kids might find it boring. Some days the 90 minutes you share with them might drag. Some days they might never want to read another nonfiction article ever again. But when you don’t let them off easily, when you teach them to push through, when you make them work a little harder, they grow.

You will learn (again) the importance of relationships. Your students want to know more about you than why you think grammar is important. They will ask about your boyfriend. They will wonder if you go to church. They will suspect that you are a liberal because you have never praised Donald Trump. They will Internet stalk you and attempt to follow you on Instagram. Once they know you, they may not hate you. A surprising kid will say, as you nearly force him out the door on the last day, that really, you weren’t that bad. One of the bright eighth graders with her head screwed on straight will thank you for being a great teacher.

You will learn that you are not alone. The kids who have gone bonkers in your class are going bonkers for other teachers, too. Friends who are in similar teaching situations are experiencing the same spells of frustration/disillusionment/insanity. People who love you will text you encouragement and let you cry on the phone and tell you that you’re doing fine and give you advice and make you laugh and talk about things other than school with you. You need these people.

You will learn more about who you are and how you work. Having two prep times in one day does not increase your productivity. When your emotions are beginning to rage in the evenings, going for a run or making a new recipe reduces them to a simmer. Writing down bright spots in your day forces you to remember that your life and job are not hopeless.

You will learn that you can do this. Even when teaching is hard and stressful and frustrating, you can still show up and do the work. After a summer of breathing deeply, maybe you can even do it again.

Surprised

Surprised. adjective. To have discovered unexpectedly; being led or brought unaware.

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Student teaching is over. After a week, I’m still blinking, looking around in wonder.

Back in November, when this last leg of student teaching was beginning, I clunked through the transition. I didn’t feel ready for new: a new school, a new group of faces to remember, a new schedule to learn, a new (earlier) start time. Everything felt overwhelming. But I had to go. So I put on a brave face and downed some caffeine and showed up.

The first day was okay. The next day was better. Then, slowly, middle school surprised me.

I grew to know the students in that windowless ELA room. Not just their names, but their personalities. Which ones should not sit in a pod together. Which ones would always volunteer answers, and which ones rarely would. I learned that one kid would like to be famous for eating the most gummy bears in a year, that most think the best teachers give out food, that some twelve-year-olds are stressed by unnecessary noises just like me, and that 7th graders are curious about topics ranging from what’s inside a bowling ball to how planes stay up to “how the world started (besides Jesus)” to whom they’ll marry. I overheard conversations about whether or not Bill and Hillary Clinton are married, about “dabbing,” about how eye size doesn’t change from the time a person is a baby until they’re an adult. Their spurts of wisdom, of enthusiasm, of vibrance, made me grin.

I began to take over more responsibility. My cooperating teacher was gone one day, and it was me (plus a sub) against the world. We survived. The kids didn’t go bonkers. They might have even learned something. We started a research unit. I circulated the room during work time, answering questions with my hair on fire. The hour blazed by and I was not bored once. The teacher shoes began to fit, molding to me. I liked them. It was harder than expected to give them back as my nine weeks ended. For once, I felt like a real teacher. My cooperating teacher had told me early on that I was doing well. It took time for me to actually believe her. But I began to.

One of the miracles of teaching is the hidden growth students sometimes make. The blossoms don’t appear immediately, and their blooms take unexpected shape. When I was leaving, one of the boys from my hardest hour came up to me. He had been a quiet one, distracted, reluctant to write unless he could dictate his thoughts. I thought I had annoyed him more than anything. “I’m really sad you’re going to be leaving,” he said. “I am too,” I said. Then I found a thank-you card from him in the pile I received. It was short, neat, written by himself. It touched me more than most. Among the other notes, another girl had written a sweet, thoughtful letter. Among her sentences: “You always helped me when I needed it, you were sooo cheerful and happy and it honestly made my day better.” She, too, had been quiet in class. I had no idea.

On that scared morning at the beginning, I did not anticipate any of these exact things. I couldn’t have. That’s the stickiness of new adventures. Though I suspect that good might come, I always always always want to know precisely what to expect.

It’s undoing me right now, now that student teaching is done, now that I am waiting. Waiting on everything. On my plans for tomorrow and whether I’ll have a sub position or not. On my plans for next month and whether I’ll have a job. On my plans for next fall and whether I’ll be here or across the world. I long for sketched-out plans for my relationships, for my career, for whether I’ll be able to pay rent at the end of the month. Instead, I have nothing concrete for the rest of my life.

But I’m learning, with agonizing slowness, that not knowing, that openness, that waiting, leaves room for God’s surprises. When I let go of my narrow visions of what life could be, it creates space for him to work ordinary miracles. My loaves and fishes look like groceries and job openings and friendships and a car that mostly works.

The unknown, the waiting for assurance, scares me. But so do all great adventures, if they truly deserve the word. I can trace God’s unexpected hand in these past nine weeks of student teaching, if I look. I’m choosing to trust that, in this new season, he’ll surprise me again.

Graduation

Graduation. noun. The receiving of an academic degree; a ceremony marking the end of one phase of life and the beginning of another. See also: commencement.

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Dear freshman Anna,

On Friday, you graduated from college.

Right now, you think this day will never arrive. And when it finally does, you will not have high expectations.

On the morning of graduation, you will be a cranky monster. The day will seem anticlimactic, since many of your friends will have already graduated and you’ll have four weeks of student teaching remaining. (You’ll stick with that double major you’re doubting right now. It will be painful sometimes, like when you have to continue student teaching even after graduation, but hopefully it’s worth it.) Worries about being late and not wearing the right thing and still having to go to school on Monday will be overpowering. You might have accidentally say “Can we get a move on?” out loud during rehearsal.

But graduation day will turn out to be surprising and complicated and sweet. In fact, your whole college experience will be surprising and complicated and sweet.

Right now, the campus buildings are still becoming familiar. You still don’t remember exactly where the registar’s office is (much less what a registrar does). In four and a half years, those halls and classrooms and sidewalks be stamped with memories.

You’ll spend hours in that office in 3rd floor Naz. That professor intimidates you now, but eventually you’ll work for her and she will find out all of the details of your life. You’ll learned the value of a juicy red pen and write sentences about a grapefruit named Ruby, who will go on dates and have picnics by the lake.

You’ll pound out workouts in the gym with the basketball team. You will be forced to play intramural volleyball games at 11:00 pm, and you will barely tolerate it. During the basketball season, being a freshman benchwarmer will knock the perfectionism right out of you.

You’ll live in Hartill 254 and 255 and 155 and 259. Now, you tote an Audrey Hepburn poster and a vague hope for community as you walk into Selah 2. You will find: some of your dearest friends, 2 staffs of Hartill RAs who will share stories and laughter and birthday cards and movie nights, a hall of girls you’ll lead and love for a year, much late-night conversation, brownies eaten straight from the pan, and the ability to hang decorations without nails. Your sister will live in two of those rooms a few years later, and that fact will amuse you.

On the island, you’ll swim on warm evenings and canoe on spontaneous dates. In a few weeks, your hall will go stargazing there, and when you’ve finished singing worship songs, you’ll accidentally witness a boys’ dorm initiation. An entire hall will streak by in their boxers, jump in the lake, and run back, yelling. They will never knew you were there. (You’ll also live in an apartment with the RA who organized this stargazing trip, which will be a random gift from God.)

You will not do much homework in the library. When necessary, you’ll find the tables by the big windows passable. The people-watching is the best there. Don’t go upstairs, where it’s too quiet, unless there’s a nice guy who you need to study Chinese with.

You will never establish one precise spot to sit in Maha, though you’ll prefer somewhere the right side, a few rows down. You’ll sing worship songs every Friday, and learn the names of people you will never meet as you scan their IDs, and tell 500 freshman about your search for identity. In this same auditorium, you will graduate.

On graduation day, you will walk in behind the World Languages banner, though you could have fit equally well under English & Literature or Education. You will feel a flicker of accomplishment when the president congratulates you for your honors, when you move your tassel and become alumni. Your boyfriend will surprise you after the ceremony. (Yes, you will get a boyfriend, if you follow the library and Chinese studying instructions.) You won’t be expecting him for another five days, and you’ll almost lose your mortarboard when you see him walk toward you, bearing flowers. One your current roommates will be there, catching the ceremony between her brother’s hockey games. She will have shared endless YouTube videos and buckets of support with you in the past years. Your family will take you out to dinner at one of the coolest restaurants in St. Paul, a former warehouse with tall skylights and excellent salmon. You’ll forgot your car on campus and the Public Safety officer on duty won’t ticket you when you call and beg for mercy. You still won’t like talking on the phone. The day will end with Sebastian Joe’s ice cream cake, a sweet finale.

Right now, as a baby-faced freshman, you think that this graduation day is a magic ticket to being a competent adult. You watch the seniors, who walk around campus so purposefully, and assume that in four and a half years, you too will have everything figured out. You think that you might have a job lined up, or the promise of a ring by spring, or maybe even style.

Hate to break it to you, honey. But at graduation, you will still feel as clueless and uncertain as ever. Right now, you value your own efficiency, discipline, and ability to excel. You place your identity in those things. In four and a half years, you won’t anymore. You’ll lose confidence in your own merit. You’ll realize how messy life is, and you’ll lose hope that working hard can fix everything. But you’ll gain more important things. You’ll find composure in front of a class of middle schoolers. You’ll discover passion for investing in relationships. You’ll gain definition in your cheekbones. And the things you’re learning in life are just beginning.

Every graduation speaker will tell you that commencement does not mean end. It means beginning. (Pretty sure you said this in your own high school graduation speech, actually.) It’s horribly cliché. But it is also true. You’re launching into the rest of your life soon, a new beginning, and it’s scary. You won’t ever feel totally ready.

But if you’ll learn one thing over the next four and a half years, it’s that you’ll make it, even through the scary and unknown and intimidating.

Have fun, kid. Make some memories.

– Me

ESL

ESL. acronym for English as a Second Language. My classroom of residence for the past 10 weeks; also home to the cutest kids on the planet.

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My term as an elementary ESL student teacher comes to an end this week. I’ve been camping out in the ESL room for 10 weeks now, working with kiddos in grades K-5. These are the stories that shine as I ponder this experience.

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I think the gene for teaching the very small ones skips a generation. My mom is a rocking kindergarten teacher, and I spent Thursday evenings throughout high school watching her work with little guys at ECFE. And then my turn came. I sat at the tiny table with the tiny kinders, the ones who hold hands when they walk out of the classroom and tell me sometimes, “Miss C, you look beautiful today.” And I realized that I had no idea what I’m doing. How is teaching the alphabet, numbers 1 through 6, the question “What do you do with your family?” so hard? I planned lessons I thought were fine and showed up to have my squirrely group distracted and my timing off and my teacher reminding me to pick one focus and to keep them moving and teach behavior over content and do the whole thing differently. So I sighed a lot and kept trying and asked for feedback and wondered why on earth the simplest concepts in school were so dang complicated to teach.

And one day, lightbulb. We were working on numbers, and I was stressed. Math has caused me more angst than any other school subject, and the trend was continuing. But I tried. I found a worthwhile new game on the miraculous Internet. I thought through my plans. We moved through the activities “boom boom boom boom,” as my teacher says in her rapid-fire Chinese accent, and I saw that they had just enough knowledge to be successful but still struggle productively, and they were engaged in making independent choices the entire time, and they didn’t go bananas when I handed out materials. I overheard my cooperating teacher tell another teacher that I looked like a veteran, and I wanted to cry.

She did not say that every day after that. Some lessons, we spend more time practicing not kicking the table and keeping eyes on the book and not talking when it is not our turn than learning vocabulary. Some lessons, I still got reminders from my teacher to pick just one focus, and I wanted to say, “I’m trying! I promise! I am actually thinking about this! Why is that not clear?” But there were shining little moments, where I asked the right questions and had good pacing during drawing time and used helpful visuals, and I saw a glimmer that I was doing some tiny thing right. I saw my mistakes, stopped agonizing over them, and did better the next time. Try and fix and try and fix and try and fix. That is all I could do. That is all I needed to do.

//

The 2nd graders caught the giggles a few weeks from the end. The entire time I was videotaping lessons for assessments, they were golden. They were engaged and curious and only occasionally distracted. Classroom management? Why would I struggle with classroom management? said the prideful one before the fall. Because then the honeymoon ended. And they caught the giggles. A sentence about a character named Eric and his parrot triggered laughter. A little dude’s deep, throaty impression of The Voice of the Mountain caused explosions. One girl’s slouching so low she nearly fell of her chair provoked giggles. And I’m all for laughter, but not when it does not stop. In my last week, we had serious talks in my teacher voice about what it looks like to be active listeners. The skills were practiced and modeled, the reminders were given, the countdown to quiet was attempted, the consequence of taking a break in the hall (horror of horrors) was in place. I thought that maybe, just maybe, I was making some headway. And then I told the kids it was my last day of teaching them, one of my dear distracted dudes said, “Aw, now we can’t be weird anymore!” And I realized that they knew. My newbie status had been found out. I wanted to laugh and cry and possibly send the kid back to Vietnam. (I kid, I kid.)

I realized that maybe I’d screwed up. Maybe I’d been a little too chill. Maybe I’d let the consequences go unenforced for too long. Maybe my teacher would take over and wonder what in the heck I’d been doing for eight weeks. And it would be okay. The world would not end. The kids had still learned something. I could smile. I could fix it next time.

//

I started stepping away from classes this week, to observe how a rockstar 1st grade teacher manages her classroom and what upper-grade Language Arts teachers do for context as I step into 7th grade English. On bus duty, telling kids to “Walk down the stairs, no, you come back and try that again, that is not how we walk to the bus,” my cutie-pie kids waved at me. They missed me. They asked why I wasn’t in class and if I would come back and teach them tomorrow. My 3rd graders, the ones who always ask “Can I tell you just one thing?” which is never just one thing, check every day now when I’m leaving. One of them made sad faces at me when I watched my cooperating teacher teach their class and hugged me when I walked by in the hallway.

I look back, at the moment on the video recording of one lesson when all of the students leaned in close over a simple experiment, curiosity piqued. At the time when the brand-new kid used the words “my brother” for the first time in conversation. At the look on the 4th grader’s face when he found out we were writing letters to the principal, and that she would actually read them. At the quiet embarrassment of the kiddo translating his own strengths and challenges into Spanish for his mom at conferences. At the questions of the 1st grader, who requested, after some stubborn prying into my personal life, “Can’t you bring your boyfriend here, so I can meet him?” And I tuck those snapshots away. In the middle of this placement, I got restless, so ready to move beyond ABC and 123 and truck-car-train. In my hustle, I forgot that this time has held sweetness.

Sure, it’s been complicated too. I have been challenged and passionate and bored and confident in the same morning. I am sad to leave the cute little faces and the setting that’s become familiar, class by class, but I am ready to move on. I want to make a big dramatic stink over this, but this messy ball of feelings, the way things move on before you’re ready and after you’ve been ready for forever, is life. And life involves beginnings and endings, changes and transitions, hellos and goodbyes. All I can do is name the good and the hard, and let them quietly change my heart.

So adios, kiddos. May you always be adorable, and may your vocabularies always be increasing. Thanks for teaching me more than I taught you.

Interim

Interim. noun. An intervening time, a temporary or provisional arrangement.

jblaha via Flickr

jblaha via Flickr

On a tired evening, I read a post by Emily Freeman. She shared these words, from John O’Donohue in To Bless the Space Between Us:

You are in this time of the interim where everything seems withheld.

The path you took to get here has washed out; the way forward is still concealed from you.

You cannot lay claim to anything; In this place of dusk, your eyes are blurred;

And there is no mirror. As far as you can, hold your confidence.

Do not allow your confusion to squander.

This call which is loosening your roots in false ground, that you might come free from all you have outgrown.

I stopped scrolling mindlessly. I read those words again. I let them sink and felt them resonate.

Because I am in this time of the interim.

The last of summer just slipped through my fingers. Not long ago, we had a golden day, a gift in Minnesota October. It was eighty degrees and sunshine and bursts of fall color. I sat outside in shorts and read Fitzgerald. And then, the next morning, the wind snatched the door from my hands as I left my apartment and blew in steel gray clouds. The temps waver now. We have blessed mild sun today and I forget my jacket most mornings, but the leaves are crumbling. I know what’s coming soon. I’m bracing for it.

I’m nearly done with my seventh week of student teaching. I’m prepping and teaching all but a tiny handful of kiddos. The battle does not rage, but rolls on, day by day. We’ve finished 18 hours of conferences, so many hours in the small room for the number of families who show. The assessments for state licensing are so much work, typed in 11-point font on too many pages, with so little payoff. Sometimes I feel like a real teacher, worrying what videos my third grader is posting of herself on YouTube and wondering how to authentically incorporate music for the boy who sings Wiz Kalifa while staring at his journal. And sometimes I feel like a fraud. I have no paycheck, no year-long commitment to this school and these students. I am still a college student, tied to supervisors and seminar hours and my university email.

I don’t know where I’m going. I have eleven more weeks of clarity, three with my elementary kiddos and eight in  7th grade Language Arts. And then my life is blank, all haze. Job boards and program applications offer many options and little clarity. “It will be interesting,” I say. “It will all work out.” I believe it because I have no choice, because belief precedes sight in my brand of faith.

Relationships get complicated. We muddle through the everydays of long-distance and wonder if it’s worth it, if it will work out. This is no easy business, the in-between of “I like you” and “I do.” I’m feeling desperation to be permanently attached to someone, to come home to the same arms every night. I see it happening for friends on my Facebook feed, while I sit solitary in my apartment and burn with quiet cynicism. It’s not yet time for me. Maybe it won’t ever be. For now, I buy a plane ticket and pray and try to build a life anchored on more than one boy. But still the distance, the unknown, the unfulfilled ache.

I don’t know what I’ve outgrown. I can’t go back, to classes with familiar professors and the friendly faces in chapel and close circles with girls in the dorms. I don’t want to. But there are holes left. I used to know my place in community, sitting on industrial carpet under twinkle lights, or standing in line to buy cookies from the cafe after chapel. Those everyday intersections are gone. The connections remain, a little dusty but still whole and real. I need to reach out. I need to be known.

This is the space between student and adult, between classes and jobs, between past and future. This is the interim. This is life. We live and move in the moments between, the moments of not yet, the moments of mystery and blind faith. And through it, the blurry and the broken, we keep moving. We keep growing. We keep trusting that God makes cosmos from emptiness, life from dust, and beauty from our cracked little souls.

Graduates

Graduates. noun. People who gets to wear funny hats and walk across a stage because they have completed some level of schooling.

mic wernej via Flickr

mic wernej via Flickr

I know and love a lot of people who are graduating this month. As a bossy older sister and blog writer (double whammy), I feel obligated write some big words to match this big moment.  Unfortunately, occasions like this make me realize how inadequate my words are. Especially when finals week has just ended, and I have been stripped of everything poetic and reminded that I know pretty much nothing.

But, my people, I want to leave you something. You all have touched my life, and I want to leave you something potentially touching in return. I want you to know that I love you all and I am thinking a lot about you as your life moves onwards and upwards, even if I don’t say it out loud.

So I’ll give you one of the few things I know for sure (I think) right now: I truly believe that nobody knows what they’re doing.

This is the sum of everything I’ve learned in college. (My tuition dollars at work, people.) For the last four years, almost everyone I knew started 2,000 word papers the night before they were due. Everyone sleepwalked through finals week, barely hanging on to their sanity. Everyone saw how long they could go without doing laundry. Everyone felt the thrilling tension between “I’m independent and free!” and “Wow, being an adult sucks.” Basically, nobody knew what they were doing.

I’m taking a wild guess that that doesn’t change as we start to move into the “real” world. Everyone wants fulfillment but has no idea how to find it. Everyone is scared that their friendships will change and they’ll be lonely and left behind. Everyone has worries about failure boiling in the backs of their minds. We each sport our own brand of brokenness, wackiness, and wonderfulness.

This gives you all kind of freedom. Be honest when you’re stressed and terrified, and you’ll find that other people are stressed and terrified too. Show people the real-life you behind your glossy status updates. Don’t compare yourself to other people’s glossy status updates – they have a grittier, messier version of themselves, too. Remember that we’re all in this together, and sing the High School Musical song for good measure – don’t pretend you don’t know all the words.

Nobody knows what they’re doing, and we’re all going to be fine.

To those graduates who know me well, you have full permission to not believe a word I say. You know first-hand how I personally have no idea what I’m doing and have no grounds to give advice to anyone. To all graduates, regardless of whether you know me or listen to me, I wish so many good things for you going forward. Good things include but are not limited to: full nights of sleep, strong hugs, shoes that are both comfortable and cute, abounding energy, waffle fries, and unlimited trust in the Lord. Blessings as you go out and rock the world.

Now

Now. adverb. According to Dictionary.com, “At the present time or moment.”

caesararum via Flickr

caesararum via Flickr

We stop in front of the dorm, its boxy windows glowing. Hazard lights ahead of us blink. I need to get out of the car. Now. I stretch six hours of kinks from my legs, unbend knees, pop trunk. My body releases. My mind doesn’t. For the first time since freshman year, I don’t want to be back.

Spring break slipped by like fading light. I flew to DC in a snowstorm, found hugs and long conversations and feet sore from walking miles of sidewalk. Over the weekend, the snow melted and my heart warmed to the city, history threaded with modern Metro lines and selfie sticks. Then after a flight and a drive, I was home, to cheesy movies and late nights and a church with people who had prayed me through bad weather. It was familiar, the grain elevator a gray, boxy monument to sprawling life with no stoplights.

And then I returned to school and classes and a campus that shifts without me. Now unknown faces form mad lines for coffee before chapel. I am one of the nameless seniors, drifting purposefully between class and work and meetings in patterns I’ve learned to scurry over seven semesters. As we cross the apex of spring semester of senior year, three classes left between me and student teaching, I am Roadrunner, sprinting fast over cliff edges. I’ve been running, surviving, for so long that I don’t realize when my feet hit thin air. My time has run out. Now, I look at the camera with wide-eyed questions. In a moment, I will begin to drop.

The flash of four years is nearly over. Sitting in classes where the clock ticks, in dry chapel talks, I want it to be done. The glassy bubble of a Christian college was first comforting. Now it confines. So do textbooks and assignments typed late at night. My knowledge wants to flex and find roots in real life and real people. I think I’m ready for the real world to bring it.

On a Friday night that hints of spring, I go to a concert where my friend is a featured soloist. She is stunning. After the final bows, while we wait in a back hallway, her mom says hi, gives me a hug, and mentions how it’s all ending, how there’s only one concert left where I’ll see my friend in the front row with the flutes. I blink. It’s ending. Not just classes. My normal for friendships and weekend plans and daily life will also end. Somehow I forgot that part. I am stuck between impatience and anxiety and excitement and fear. I think I’m prepared to move on. Then I think harder and I am not so sure.

So I have choices. I can try to fast-forward through long weeks until summer. I can get sentimental over pictures of good ol’ days and refuse to hope in bright future ones. I can stop typing and head to Netflix to not think at all.

Or. I can decide that I am here, now, and not flake out. I can still have time to walk to class with friends and love on my staff and get something out of class and pass my MTLEs and land a good summer job. Even if it’s rough, I won’t quit now.

Seasons

Seasons. noun. Periods of time, often occuring in a cyclical nature. Frequently refers to the four seasons of the calendar year.

Image via Pinterest

Image via Pinterest

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Highway 10 drifts around mild Midwestern hills. The leaves are beginning their raucous September surrender. We point at the ombre trees, their leaves flaming brighter the closer they reach to the sun. If we weren’t zooming down the highway on a deadline, we’d pull over to see the streams reflecting the full spectrum of fall, the hillsides blanketed in scarlet, the summer dying in glory. For now, we snatch glimpses at 71 miles per hour.

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When I was young, I lined up fresh school supplies on my dresser in the weeks before school started. Uncrumpled paper, crisp folders, and smooth erasers were heavy with possibility and perfection. I admired them and their newness. Using them, unwrapping and scrawling initials and wearing away corners, was hard. As the school year went on, favorite pens bled dry. Sharpeners gnawed at pencil lengths. The special faded to ordinary. I understand why Tom Hanks offered to send Meg Ryan a bouquet of sharpened pencils in You’ve Got Mail. I’d adore such an offering, fragrant with nostalgia and graphite and unwritten words. But it would be so hard for me to pull the first pencil from the bunch and scratch out a Post-It, to watch the magic slip away.

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My professor brings a bag of apples to night class. Each is bigger than my fist, its skin smooth and freckled with yellow. I press one to my lips. It smells of leaves and aged sunshine. Juice runs down my hand, spots my notebook paper with stickiness. I hope that my future students bring me apples, even if it’s cliché. I could eat three Honeycrisps a day at their fall peak and not tire of them.

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It’s 7:30 and the sun is setting on the lake. It gets tired earlier these days. So do I. We sit on a picnic table dragged close to the shore. Talk is hushed by the fading light and the peach sky bleeding into deepening blue. On the water, the reflection wrinkles, and window lights shimmer like fireflies. Canadian geese flap loudly across the lake, skidding across the water on takeoff. When the last breath of sunlight dissolves, we walk away, back to laptops and textbooks. Though the daylight has fled, the day is not yet over.

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There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens – Ecclesiastes 3:1. A time for leaves to fall. A time for fresh starts. A time for harvesting fruit. A time for setting suns. A time for seeing and praising.

 

Favorite

Favorite. noun. According to Dictionary.com, “A person or thing regarded with special favor or preference.”

summer

Summer is my favorite, for ever and always.

I know that August is when people begin to whine that it’s sweaty and humid and that they’re ready for falling leaves. Psht. (That’s my skeptical, don’t-be-ridiculous noise.) They clearly don’t recognize the good things in life. For example: Fudgesicles and flip-flops and going outside without a jacket and Vitamin D. I could go on.

I will, actually.

Here are a few (more) of my favorite things.

Weekend destination: the lake. There is no other logical place to spend a hot summer day. All of the following pictures were taken at the lake, because the best things happen there.

Style: polka dots, navy blue, and bleach-blond hair. Though this combination is timeless and works in all seasons, I believe it’s best in summer. Especially when it involves a swimsuit. It’s unfortunate that styling swimming suits with my grandpa’s work boots is not quite as timeless.

polkadots.jpg

Time of day: sunset. The light is best when soaked up lakeside, the glow reflecting onto rosy cheeks and messy hair.

sunset

Accessory: a lifejacket. I still spend as much time in the water as possible. As a responsible lifeguard, I get that lifejackets are, well, life-saving and necessary for some water activities. They can be quite stylish and flattering, too, as is obvious in the picture below. However, for safety reasons, the throwback, mustard-colored versions that are far too big should not be donned by curly-haired kiddos.

lifejacket

Adrenaline-spiking activity: tubing. Tubing was great, and not that scary, when I sat securely between my big-kid cousins. It’s also great, but far more scream-inducing, when I go with my younger brother, who is psycho and enjoys my terror far too much. Just look at his maniacal grin.

tubing2.jpg

There are so many more favorites I could include. But I realize that not everyone is as in love with this season as I am. Like Mother Nature. She’s giving me clues that it’s time for this season to wind down. Twilight comes earlier. I’m buying back-to-school essentials instead of sunscreen. Only one lake weekend remains on the calendar.

I’m clinging tight to those last breaths of summer. This season has flown by, leaving damp swimsuits and empty tubes of sunscreen and new favorite memories in its wake. I don’t feel ready to let it go quite yet.

Unfortunately, I don’t really have a choice. And I suppose I’ll be okay. After all, there’s this thing about seasons – somehow, they always come again, and in just nine months, the season will start all over.

Anyone want to count the days with me?