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Bend Your Knees and Brace Yourself

Those of you who follow my Twitter feed or read this blog might have noticed I’ve been mostly missing for the last 6 months.

It’s because Life came at me like a hurricane to a drought-savaged land. Storming with much welcomed water, while also destroying a lot of what lay in it’s path.

Ok. Maybe not THAT bad, but…

To re-cap, a treasured family member had a life threatening health crisis, which resulted in huge changes to their lives and all of our lives. I had a rather complicated surgery, only to find out that there were complications and needed to have another surgery to correct things only two weeks later. And I recently got married to my longtime partner (hurray) – but due to an incompetent Uber driver, both sets of parents were over an hour and a half late to the wedding (don’t worry, we waited for them). Those are just a few of the highlights.

It has sort have begun to feel if there is any chance of something going wrong, it will absolutely happen. If there’s a tack on the floor, I will step on it. If I’m in an elevator, it will get stuck between floors. If there’s something important to print, there will be no toner left.

On the other hand, for every tack, there’s a person who helps me pull it out. For every stalled elevator, there’s been an elevator repair technician. For every printer snafu there’s been a friend who’s willing to print something out.

Distress – gratitude – distress – gratitude – distress – gratitude.

The last six months of my family’s lives have been so filled with ups and downs that I can’t tell if I should lie down or throw up.

And sometimes, even for an avowed pessimist like myself, it is just too much.

I expect everything to go wrong and am pleasantly surprised when it doesn’t go wrong. But that doesn’t mean I don’t get tired every once in awhile.

And this has gotten me to thinking of the teachers I know and love. It feels like last year’s downward spiral has been replaced by this year’s roller coaster (bungee cord, or fill in your favorite example of something else that goes up and down in a nauseating fashion).

There are new initiatives that seem child-centered and effective, but the materials and information on them didn’t arrive until the end of September. There’s time set aside for planning, but more things to plan. There’s more access to digital tools but no time to learn how to integrate them authentically into practice.

Good – bad – good – bad – good – bad.

I’m sure you could insert your own up-down scenario (or a few). It has gotten, for many of my schools, to an almost comical level. It’s almost as if anything that is good that happens then seems to have something bad happen immediately after – as if the entire planet is operating under some sort of bad luck from a broken mirror we aren’t aware we broke.

So, what’s a teacher to do, if you find yourself nodding along to this description?

I actually don’t really know.

What I do know is that the past six months have been tolerable and not crushing, despite their extremes, because I was never expecting everything to be great. In fact, each time I was about to enter into a part of my life (on the way to the airport to catch a plane to Paris, being wheeled into the operating room, heading to my wedding) I allowed myself to feel excited, but I also braced myself for the inevitable bad.

This posture of joy mixed with pessimistic expectation has reminded me a lot of my days growing up in southern California. My brother and I would wade into the ocean, loving the feel of the summer sun and the warmth of the Pacific Ocean tickling our legs, but always walking with our knees bent, knowing at any moment a powerful wave could wash over us and we wanted to be ready to face it.

So that’s what I’ve been doing lately. Both in my day-to-day life and my work as an educator. I’ve been enjoying the happy things as they’ve come, but keeping my legs bent and my eyes ready for the inevitable crashing wave. Because it’s important to experience the joy and fun, but it’s also important to not get taken by surprise by the hard stuff.

And I will also say, just as I reached for my brother’s hand as the wave crashed over us, I have found myself turning more and more to the people around me. They might be going through the exact same things, but not being alone in it, and sometimes even being able to help each other, has made everything so much less catastrophic feeling.

When I think back to my wedding day, two weeks ago, I remember heading to the hotel in the morning, where everyone was meeting to get dressed, and thinking, ‘We have this all planned too perfectly. I can’t imagine what’s going to go wrong. But I know something will.’ It was that moment of thought, that little acceptance of inevitable disaster that allowed me to bend my knees and get ready for a two hour wait for my parents to arrive at the wedding, knowing that we were surrounded by love, and that all of us had each other.

As you move deeper into the fall months, I encourage you to consider doing the same. Take in all that is good and enjoyable in your teaching practice and your schools – soak in those wide-eyes and cherish the giggles. But then get those knees braced for the crash, and your hands ready to grab someone else’s.

Next week, I plan to blog a bit about my portion of the topic Jen Serravallo, Barb Golub and I will be presenting at the NCTE Convention.
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