Six months ago, I walked out of my school building on a Friday afternoon, after promising my class of 8th graders that on Tuesday (Monday was MLK, Jr day) I would bring them homemade cookies to reward their excellent behavior during our library research project. Yes, I bribed them. I"m not above it--you try dealing with 24 fourteen year olds who have no interest whatsoever in anything but who said what about whom in the cafeteria or who's wearing what, and then you judge me. Until then, back off. Cookies work. Candy works. As a matter of fact, I spent a good deal of my salary on chocolate bribes in my years as a teacher and my test scores were consistenly impressive and "no child left behind"-ish. So there.
So anyway, I made that promise, and walked out of the building. Three days later, I had an ultrasound that showed a lazy, weak, incompetent cervix. It was not susceptible to my chocolate bribes. I never went back to work.
Until yesterday. The last day of school. It is tradition for the faculty to have a little bbq picnic after the last bus full of sweaty, screaming, swearing teenagers pulls out of the lot for the summer. It is definitely a sight worth celebrating. See ya, kiddos!! As a teacher, I can honestly say that we are happier than the kids when the last day of school comes around--it is an indescribable joy to say goodbye to them, even if they weren't hellions.
So I packed up Ethan and his gigantic diaper bag ( you know the phrase, "everything but the kitchen sink"? Believe me, if i could find any reason why he might need it, 'i could fit the damn thing in this bag). We drove the GW Parkway to work, listened to the old morning radio team I used to listen to on my commute and sadly, this nostaglic drive was pretty much the highlight of my trip down memory lane. And even then, it was greatly enhanced by the fact that I could look in my rearview mirror and see little E staring at the world going by him.
I got to the school building just in time to see the busses pull away as I parked my car. I was careful not to bring Ethan during regular school hours, because my god, the germs! I don't know exactly when covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough or using a tissue instead of your sleeve to wipe your nose becomes an automatic sort of reflex, but I'll tell you, I rarely see a middle schooler do either. They generally seem to feel it's their duty to spread as many germs as quickly as possible. Perhaps there is a prize that I am unaware of. But anyway, taking him to school while the students were still roaming the halls would be akin to letting Britney Spears babysit, so I waited until the halls were clear of all but tissue-using, mouth-covering grown ups.
There were many "ooohs" & "ahhhhs" each time I encountered someone I hadn't seen in months. I reiterated over and over that he is 6.5 weeks, but should really be 1.5 weeks (this in response to the "he's so TINY!!" crap that everyone spewed at me). Granted, they also gushed about how gorgeous and precious and handsome he is (duh), but the "tiny" comment really irked me after awhile. Did anyone say to me, "wow, Sarah, you're so fat now!"? or do people say to men under 5'10''. "wow, dude, you're short!"? No. Then why would you focus on a baby's size like that? They all know he was born early--of course he's small. No need to harp on it, people. Talk about all that hair instead.
Of course, there's nothing really wrong with pointing out that he's small, but really...the mom of a preemie has this residual guilt that can be sparked by the most innocuous comments (at least this mom of a preemie does). And after about the 15th time I heard it, I was knee deep in guilt-stew. Yes, people, I know! He was early! I did a bad job of gestating--I get it! grrrrrr.....
Aside from the overly-sensitive reaction to mindless comments from these people, the vast majority of whom made no attempt to contact me at all during the previous months, the morning was relatively pleasant. I caught up with people I had been missing, said goodbye to people I knew I'd never see again and ate a really yummy cupcake. But it was a detached pleasant; kind of like running into an old friend from high school that you really sort of forgot until they were standing there in front of you. You catch up, talk about old times & promise to keep in touch when you know damn well you'll never call or email and most likely never cross paths again.
My office looked exactly as I left it on January 13th. The paperwork on my desk was in the exact same spot; the voice mail light was flashing on my phone (I never checked my work voice mail, ever); the big bag of chocolate bribes was still in the third drawer down. It was eerie. The only sign of any time having passed was the fact that the humidity of the room (it was like a swamp in there) had turned all the paper damp and curling up at the ends. I threw a lot of stuff away without really looking at it & gathered up some personal stuff.
After the picnic, I drove home with my baby and the wedding pictures I retrieved from my office, feeling....nothing. I expected to feel a sense of sadness. I was closing a door. Officially I am "taking a year's leave of absence", but I have a strong suspicion that that year will stretch into either several years or a new career. I am usually a sentimental sap, tearing up at anything that remotely looks like a goodbye. But leaving the school felt like nothing but relief and freedom. I don't even feel like the same person who used to work there.
I realized as far as change goes, I may as well have been wrapped up in a cocoon during the 4 months I spent in bed because who I was and who I am today are as different as catepillar and butterfly.