Today, one of my favorite fashion bloggers, Une Femme d’un Certain Âge, wrote about the back-to-school period as a time for returning to routine and order. http://unefemme.net/2014/09/la-rentree.html Or perhaps I should call her a blogueuse, since she so often writes about French flair. Anyway, la rentrée (“back to school” en français) is indeed a time when we pull ourselves together after summer’s messy, relaxed respite; we make plans, set goals, and start the new year. Because, let’s face it – when your life moves to the rhythm of the school year, New Year’s Day falls when those school doors open after summer break. Until now, my life has moved to this rhythm, whether as a student, the mother of one, or a teacher. I’d trip gaily down the school halls wishing colleagues and students a “Happy New Year,” which was probably pretty annoying. There was something comforting and optimistic about this time: fall sports, homecoming, golden autumn afternoons, and lots of interesting people to talk to, both students and colleagues. The work load was not yet too onerous, and we were mostly glad to be together. And that atmosphere of cheerfully working toward a common goal, of starting over fresh, is one that I’ll miss.
But now I’m retired, and this is my first non-rentrée. Today the children of Tacoma started their school year, bless their hearts. Yesterday, D and I helped our sister-in-law haul boxes to her new classroom. She’s an accomplished theatre teacher at a local elementary school, which was still undergoing major renovations the day before school opened. Workers of all sorts were climbing ladders, installing floors, ceiling tiles, lights, plumbing, and spreading fresh topsoil out front. It’s going to be a lovely new addition to the school building when they’re done, but Oy vey! Can you imagine all those children running through that muddy topsoil on the first day of school?
Now, I’ve never taught elementary school, but I felt relaxed and at home toting boxes through the halls of this unfamiliar building. Odd, isn’t it? Elementary schools are such cheerful, welcoming places, especially in the fall. Colorful artwork on display, little tables and chairs arranged for group work, shiny playground equipment… I would have felt at ease pitching in and getting right to work – until thirty-plus little people gathered around my desk, clamoring for my attention. OK – never mind.
The flip side of “back to school” was that panicky, sinking feeling I’d get during the last few weeks of summer break. Wait! I’m not ready yet! I haven’t had enough time to be myself! I don’t want to be Ms. S. again! Summer break was the only time when I could sink into my own rhythm, follow my own inclinations, without those school bells marching me along. In summer I could wear whatever I liked, rather than what was expected of a woman in my position. (And teachers have a pretty lax dress code. I’d never have made it in a profession that required suits.) I could eat when I was hungry, and sleep until I was good and ready to get up – heaven!
Well, this newfound lack of a set schedule is both a blessing and a challenge. I’m finding that, if I allow it to happen, my days become just as filled as they ever were with errands, appointments – just no more teenagers to deal with, unless they’re serving me coffee. (God bless the baristas.) So my new challenge in retirement is to enjoy and profit from this atmosphere of “back to business,” this fresh start, by establishing my own goals and rhythm.
You know what? I think I’ll go back to school, but this time as a student. Not literally, at least not yet; rather, I’m going to focus some of my newfound free time on learning things that I’ve long wanted to learn, but never found enough time for when I was working. I want to learn
- how to speak Spanish
- how to play the guitar
- how to cook fish – without overcooking it
- how to paint with watercolors
- how to publish an e-book
- how to scuba dive
- how to plant a veggie garden in raised beds
- how to become a fitness instructor
What a great school year I’ll have – all my classes are electives! May all you teachers and students have an enjoyable and productive school year. Go learn something new!