The final weeks of each school year are an emotional roller coaster for all of us, full of projects, tests, grades, and sometimes shenanigans and meltdowns. Summer, no doubt, is a respite from stress, a retreat to calm after the storm. But for teachers it’s also a letting go of another year — and a sudden departure from groups of students we’ve nurtured for many months. We will never see many of these students again; we can only hope we’ve contributed in some way to their growth, but we’ll never know for sure. Few ever come back to visit or drop us a note, even if they’ve simply moved up to the next grade in the building.
So for some teachers, the door slam of transition can be unnerving. Two of my closest colleagues, both near my age, shared with me last week that they also struggle with it. Navigating the whirlwind of duties, obligations, and emotions is exhausting; we’ve each experienced some tears and sleepless nights in the last few weeks. In fact, it was 15 years ago this month that I suffered a mild breakdown that required several months of healing and re-calibration. That year, layered on top of everything else, I’d faced a divorce and a move, the death of my grandmother, and a scary bout of pneumonia in my son. It was simply too much to bear.
For those of us who feel things more deeply or who struggle with insecurities, anxieties, or depression, all transitions — whether welcome or unwelcome — create instability that can keep us from feeling fully grounded. And now here is where my son’s insistence upon routine has been a huge help: Ramon’s Summer Schedule to the rescue! All winter, he plans short trips for us to take throughout the summer, to new grocery stores (his lifelong obsession), parks, or malls . . . or to simply follow some road to its end.
These little jaunts are just what we both need to give our otherwise untethered summer a little structure. Not that teachers’ summers are wide-open expanses of free time — far from it. We spend many days in workshops, working on curriculum on our own time, or teaching or taking classes. But the pace is slower, and hopefully we have a couple of weeks to get away, physically or mentally.
Memorial Day weekend begins our “Summer Trips” calendar. So, yesterday, with our favorite Vonda Shepherd CD playing and car windows open to the sunshine, we were off to our first destination — a new Mariano’s — and then a garden shop to buy flowers. Because, as we all know, an equally great way to calm the nerves and welcome summer is to dig around in the dirt. This year I opted for marigolds in order to thwart the ground squirrels.
Here is my poem about Ramon’s summer trips. It placed 2nd in the Northwest Cultural Council’s annual contest this year, which made me very happy.
He wants to know where every road ends,
needs to fill with a crayon’s candor
the white limbo all around him.
So in June when long light beckons,
we follow one blue line a day, his eyes
hungry beside me as he catalogs each
new world, its carpet of storefronts,
billboard clusters and train-car bungalows,
coloring in the map lines in his mind.
What trick of a synapse can spark such desire?
A curiosity as eager as any, driven outward
in one dimension – the mastery of the earth
he walks upon – when it cannot turn inward
or beyond itself to wonder why or how.
Like a tiny figure trapped in a snow globe,
he stretches his arms wide to trace patterns
along the glass, those blue lines bound by
the atlas edge, each journey bound by a day.
One spring we’ll choose a road that carves
the continent in two, and he’ll see everything—
how mountains rise from wheat fields
and bridges leap great ravines, how
small towns and cities alike may teem
with easy kindness. We’ll lose count
of redi-marts, be dizzied by a million fleeting
milepost signs, let infinite sky and whirring
wheels fill and fill his maps like daffodils
blooming across a glen. And when at last we
reach the sea and turn to come back home, may he
understand that this brimming road belongs to him.