Four years ago this week, I put a green T-shirt and boasted Warrior blood, as green as my lawn, begging to mowed since my attention shifted to the blue and white backdrop of my new school’s colors. A year ago yesterday, I said, “Yes,” to the perfect proposal from the perfect guy, knowing it would mean an end to Warrior green. Our wedding day and has come and gone, and our colors, sea glass green and robin’s eye blue, once faded into the black of broken promises, find new life in my home away from home.
The most colorful facets of my classroom weren’t the details I attended to before I met the new batch of bright young minds I’ve been entrusted with for the next few seasons; the rugs, lamps, and posters don’t hold a candle to the dynamic rainbow of personalities its seats will host the year through. After a quiet summer in Hampton, the hustle and bustle of commutes and demanding workdays reminds me that I’m not as young as I used to be.
When I introduce the concept of a paradox, I suggest the familiar claim that youth is wasted on the young. Perhaps under the guise of attending high school for the rest of my life due to my chosen profession, I truly believed I would never feel old. During a five minute planning conversation with Dalmatian, the bright-eyed new teacher next store, I know that my age and experience carry positive and negative connotations. Her enthusiasm is palpable, her excitement disarming, and her energy seemingly endless. After her first day of teaching, she had us both smiling as we snapped pictures in our new classrooms to commemorate the occasion.
When was the last time I took a picture of myself on the first day of school? During my planning today, I’d already broken in the school’s yearbook camera, securing a few photos to use as instructional aides when I meet my staff tomorrow. Dalmatian reminds me to keep the first things first. While I was stressing over the quarter’s eleventh grade curriculum, she was dreaming of how to create her own welcoming learning environment. After our first full day, we were both emotionally spent, but I think we were equally encouraged at facing the year together.
It’s been a long day. I met a hundred kids, reviewed syllabi and supply lists, and tried not to butcher the names when I called roll. I left after bus duty, drove to the gym like I always do, came home to change after a solid calorie burn, and landed at my brother’s dinner table for hugs and a first day debrief. I came home to write, like I always do. It’s only just the first day. We hit the ground running, us school teachers, putting our best foot forward while lamenting the rejuvenating rays that make summer a necessity to recover from the ten month race we’ve started… and it’s just the first leg. I don’t feel like writing, so I know I must. I am not sure what life has to teach me tonight, despite a clear picture of my students’ expectations for the next nine weeks. I’ll trust the process, that if I sit here like a hundred and eighty plus Tuesday nights before, I’ll make meaning of my life.
I can’t remember the last time I took a picture of myself on any of my recent eleven first days of school, but this is a new beginning for me and Dalmatian. She doesn’t know what to worry about yet, and I am grateful for the unjaded energy that pops its head in my room throughout the day with her new, bob haircut. Dalmatian doesn’t walk – she bounces… and she lifts me on her the upstroke. Had it not been for that extra busy duty responsibility that raised my privileged eyebrows, we wouldn’t have engaged in a conversation resulting in a shared desire to snap a few photos of our new digs.
Had I not been fully present in the moment I was in, I would have missed what was a momentous moment for Dalmatian. I was honored to apply the rule of thirds and store some shots of this dynamic brunette, beaming with the pride of fulfillment completing her first day in her chosen profession. Our decorative flair flows seamlessly, the eleventh grade English classrooms all twinkling with alternative lighting, more like an office suite with the curtains, throws, and cushions that invite sixteen-year-olds to figuratively put their feet up. I’ve finished so many first days with so many new faces and names not to butcher that I’d taken the fresh start for granted.
I’ve always worked through lunch, so when I saw Dalmatian eating across the hall with a few other teachers as I picked up some handouts from the printer, it struck me that perhaps it was natural to engage with others over food instead of squinting at a computer screen for the half hour break from adolescent hormones. I’ve always done a lot of things, like hitting the gym after school. I’ve skipped twice in the last week, not in a lazy, summer objection sort of way, but because I was experimenting with my “always”. It was being ejected from the familiar colors of my old pond as Charming’s fiancé in Warrior green with a June expiration that catapulted me into a vast, unchartered sea of new experience.
My gym time is healthy, but so is meeting my friend Leia at Marker 20 for a mid-week nightcap, where we talk so much the watered-down drinks are not bartender error. Her name’s not really Leia, but after some friends and I finally convinced her to create a Pokémon Go account, I pulled the pseudonym from her favorite movie to help make her trainer ID when she signed up this weekend. She isn’t a princess at all, no air of pretense or entitlement. My Leia teaches kids, raises little women, and runs just five years ahead of me also questioning how her life doesn’t look like it thought it would by now.
Dalmatian’s new world is probably unfolding on Facebook tonight while Leia tucks her children in and wonders how, after so many years walking its green earth, there seems to be nothing new under the sun. If there’s a bell curve, I’m nearer to Leia on the plot progression. Young Dalmatian reminds me of both of us older women back in our finer hours, not just the tight skin and bright eyes, but also that spirit eager to devour adventure… spirits Leia and I tamed for our disparate reasons.
It’s inspiring. It’s unsettling. But isn’t that what these new starts accomplish for the pensive among us, those who require a little extra time and external stimulus to coax our brains away from waxing nostalgic over To Do List’s and things we can’t change into a rejuvenating night’s sleep that will only tease until the final bell rings in June?
Charming started over in Germany a few months ago. I opted to stick a little closer to Fort Monroe beach. I cross the water twice a day now, barely noticing the tunnel that used to make my pulse race. I venture outside the familiar colors of my garden beds in the morning and experience life that changes me when I return. I was a workaholic so long that I didn’t realize I was missing out on relationships, that hiding in my room or car or living room at a laptop screen couldn’t satiate my hunger for adventure, not in the long term.
I didn’t have to take an airplane – I just crossed the water, and I found another friend to add to the circle of imperfect, passionate professionals navigating the colorful, uncertain seas of starting over.