Friday, October 31, 2008

conventional wisdom=da bomb

Warning: heavy analogy use ahead.

You know how they say that after you experience a major change in your life, like a divorce or the death of a partner, or a job loss, you should wait a year for things to sift out before you make any major decisions? I think I might have some insight into why that's a really, really good idea.

When my school closed last fall, after I'd been part of it (and it a part of me) for close to seven years, I grieved. It felt, truly, as though a sister or a very close friend had died. I think part of the reason might be because I'd been deriving much of my identity through my work at the school. I was a teacher first, and a mom second. Offering progressive education in this decidedly non-progressive city felt like a really important mission, and much of the meaning in my life came from my work. When I was exhausted from work struggles, I could at least know, at the end of the day, that I'd done more good than harm.

When it died, all that was gone, and last year was a very, very difficult time. I didn't know what to do with myself. I felt that I wasn't really accomplishing anything, from day to day. An important character in my life story had just been vaporized. I felt like I'd lost my best friend. I kept waking up in disbelief, only to have the reality of it crash around me once again.

Add to that the particulars of the death: it wasn't as if my beloved friend (the school) died a natural death, or even a sudden death. It was protracted, and painful, with much dissent among family members about when and even whether to pull the plug. The years leading up to the end of my school were agony.

When it ended, I felt profound relief, but then I had to figure out what to do with myself. Homeschooling was no more than an emergency, stop-gap measure. I would gladly have gone back to teaching if I could. I worried that I was doing the wrong thing: that I really should be working my ass off to create a new school in this community, that it was a fool's mission to focus so heavily on my own children, when they will, more than likely, be just fine, no matter what kind of schooling they receive. My "real work" had been working with other people's children, and it felt somehow morally wrong for me to turn my back on them.

And now, suddenly, a year later, everything has shifted. It's not so much that my life and my work are now suddenly imbued with moment and importance. Editing and tutoring are hardly the stuff of profound meaning; if I don't do these things, someone else will, just as well or better. It's more that my perspective has changed. I can handle it, suddenly. I can face a long, crazy day of running around to lessons and playgroups and teaching commitments with peace and a smile, rather than a groan. I don't need quiet, quite as much. I'm not finding myself sitting on the couch escaping into a novel, day after day. I don't feel sad anymore.

It's been a year, and I think I'm ready to put the school behind me.

This imbues everything I'm doing with a new sense of purpose. Now that it's clear that TSS is really, truly gone, and isn't coming back, my most important work is clearly the work I do with my own children. I'm excited about homeschooling this year, and more relaxed about it at the same time. I want to make their early school years what they really should be, and I'm ready to find out about how to do that.


Anonymous said...

I didn't know that the closing of the school was so difficult for you. And it sounds like in some ways it contributed to imbalance in your life, even if it was fulfilling and inspiring.

It's great that you have a new feeling of purpose and inspiration for the coming year!

Lori said...

wow - we have seriously living parallel lives! i'm so glad you found my blog; i bet we have lots to talk about. ;^)

Sullyce3 said...


Granna Judy said...

I'm really glad that your grieving year is behind you and that you are finding good meaning in what you're doing. That should make this year a huge plus, both for you and for the boys, as well as for Joe.

Theresa said...

I think I know a little about what you are going through. It took some adjusting for me, also, when I left teaching and decided to stay home and teach my kids. Such a large part of my identity was wrapped up in being a teacher. It's hard to let that go. Very hard. But now that I have, I find myself very fulfilled in what I am doing now. I look at it more like a change of seasons in my life, which is comforting to me because it seems very natural.

shaun said...

Oh, you brought back some memories for me as well. When my first daughter was born I was trying to launch a big academic career. Maybe I'll write my own blog post on the details rather than take up lots of space here, but boy was it a long journey getting off that track -- my mind stayed in that place much longer than the rest of me. I stopped writing journal articles and adjunct teaching, but some part of me was still on that path that I had planned, and it was really hard to get off of it all the way.

My self-worth and my feeling that my day-to-day activities had meaning were completely bound up in years of intense activity that I had suddenly stopped doing. It really sucked. Of course motherhood and childcare is wonderful, meaningful, blah blah blah, but that's not where I was at.

But I must have gotten past that, because I had not thought of that struggle for a while, until your post brought those feelings back strongly! (As memories, not as renewed struggle.)

The thing that has helped, BTW, is not that I have invested my current activities with loads of significance, but that I have tried (via all my spiritual readings, especially in Buddhism, over the years) to get over the idea of significance. Which has not been easy -- being a bright kid means that people tell you from early on that they expect great things from you, so when you don't deliver the great things it is pretty hard on your sense of self. (Maybe you have some experience with this?)

I have to resist the temptation to make what I'm doing into my "great thing" and instead remember, as Thich Nhat Hanh says, that "the miracle is to walk on earth."

shaun said...

ps -- I forgot the key part of my note --

I'm sorry the past year has been so hard -- I'm glad it's getting better for you.

Anonymous said...

Wow that sounds like you are coming into some clarity. I like shaun's point, too. I think there is something in your concern about your own children being the most important thing. Not that they aren't important but investing that kind of significance in homeschooling is likely to lead to similar grief in future. I'm not as spiritually enlightened as shaun, but I think her idea of letting go of "significance" is thought provoking.

shaun said...

OK, now that I've been outed as spiritually enlightened, I'll never be able to meet any bloggers in person and reveal the truth!

Anonymous said...

LOL. I think my claim was only that you were more spiritually enlightened than I am. That bar is pretty low.