I’ve been saying a lot of goodbyes lately. Not see-ya laters, really, but farewells--the probably won’t see you agains. To people I’ve known for more than three years now. That’s longer than I’ve known my current roommates, my boyfriend, some of my close friends; that’s also more than half of the people I’m saying my goodbyes to’s lives. Yes, I’m talking about kids. Yes, they’re going to kindergarten! And yes, it’s time.
Some of us have been over each other for a while. They’ve outgrown me and our school and the younger kids to follow. I’ve gotten to my wit’s end with their newly found love of sarcasm and know-it-all-ness. But these goodbyes are different than ones you would have with people you’ve had relationships with for three years. They’re going to forget me.
This year is the toughest of the three I’ve been teaching at this school, because these little nuggets were my first group, the only ones I’ve seen the whole way through school. In three years they’ve grown out of diapers, learned how to draw superheroes and ninjas versus scribbles, and finally understand the difference between a question and a statement. I’ve learned their habits and characteristics, their flaws and shining moments, just like they know me and my habits, and my likes and dislikes. They know my moods and the things that really tick me off as well as many of my family and friends. They know I don’t like peanut butter and that I like to sit in the blue chair at lunch. They remember when and how I broke my foot almost two years ago, and they harass me about having a boyfriend regularly. They know that singing “Party rockin’ in the house tonight...” is the fastest way to drive me insane. We have inside jokes and rituals together. All of those things they’ll forget.
I’m not saying I won’t forget, too. I will. And then I’ll hear a name I haven’t in a while, and I might think of one of them. I’ll think of Cars 2 and remember Graham’s frustration that someone had Cars-themed diapers and he did not (the injustice!). I’ll give someone the “I’m watching you” gaze and think of Caleb. A text message full of emotions will flash me back to naptime with Pirjo, and summer barbecues will remind me, always, about how Lorena called me Jayne Watermelon.
These little people spend more time with me than almost anyone else in my life. Forty hours a week, every week, for three years adds up to 6,240 hours. 6,240 hours of tantrums, hugs, and whys. 374,400 minutes of drawing, dancing, and singing. 22,464,000 seconds of love, frustration, and laughter that they have given.
Our goodbyes are for good. And I’m proud of them: they’re so old! They’ll visit, for a while, but you never have quite the same bond when they come back--catching up with six and seven year olds is a relatively one-sided conversation, and the familiarity of spending every day with each other fades quickly. They replace you with new friends and teachers and activities and knowing how to read, and you replace them with new kids in diapers. So it goes.
What do you want to be when you grow up? a four year old asked me. He was mimicking, as that’s something we ask and suggest to them every day. His options are vast: ninja today, astronaut tomorrow. Some of the girls veer towards princess. Most people don’t become princesses, I say. But Grace Kelly did! That’s not what you’re supposed to remember about her.
She was kind! Remember: she was kind.
They ask me back, maybe because I’m small, or because I look young, or maybe because they can see the general realm of confusion that permeates through my skin. Who knows? It’s a question I still get, only as I get older, the question becomes more embarrassing, and even harder to answer.
It’s been a wacky few weeks, full of head bugs and witches and busy schedules and snow and sun and fighting and making up and slipping on spinach and now a blatant disregard for comma use. But there’s been one topic of conversation that has come up over and over. It’s this thing a lot of people like to call the Quarter Life Crisis. I’m renaming it to the Mid-Twenties Slump.
The Mid-Twenties Slump is more about being scared. I’m scared to give up on my dreams: the ones that still seem to change from day to day, the ones that I’m not even sure are real, because the people that I love the most are still struggling to accomplish theirs, and I’m scared of how I will look to them if I agree to a job in an office, filing papers and answering telephones and leaving the idea of publishing a novel or starting a ceramics business in the past. I’m also scared to pursue my dreams: because they keep changing, because they make no money, because what if I fail and I finally realize that I’m not as good at all those things I was told I was good at as a kid.
The Mid-Twenties Slump is when you realize that you’re no longer a recent graduate, and that the line markers that were set up for you as a kid, as a young adult, as a recent graduate, have yet to be achieved. It’s when you realize that other people are passing right by you and you’re treading water in the same place, with the same job, with the same problems that you can’t seem to fix.
The Mid-Twenties Slump is when you start asking yourself how important is it to have a job that you love, and why? When you actually start worrying about health insurance and benefits and realizing that you still don’t completely understand how a 401k works. It’s when you realize that you’re working a job that you will never be able to retire from because you are never able to save more than a hundred dollars a month; that you will always have to live in an apartment or house with multiple roommates in order to make rent; that you haven’t taken a real vacation since you were in college; that you will never make 35k a year. It’s when you start questioning your worth, and then wondering why humans mark their value in the amount of money they bring home each year.
The Mid-Twenties Slump is not strictly relegated to those in their mid-twenties.
The things that I’m passionate about, that many of the people I love are passionate about, are not things that our society tends to place value on. Making art is not as important as being able to sell things to the general public. It’s hard for me to understand how anyone can be passionate about marketing, or you know, passionate about selling a particular brand of floss. Why is it that manipulation is often more valued than creating beautiful things?
Then again, maybe I just don’t understand. Because people are passionate about everything. Some people find punching numbers exhilarating or the font used on an advertisement just right. Others want nothing more than to plate the perfectly cooked steak every single order. And some see the beauty in cleaning and organizing, in meticulously kept files, in bunsen burners and beakers.
I just happen to find the glaze on a ceramic bowl mesmerizing. I like sad songs you can’t dance to and headstands after a long day. And I, no matter how many times I lose sight of it, will always find joy in watching and listening to people, searching for the middle of every story, the meat with the bones still in.
The Mid-Twenties Slump is the frustration of not having the answers. Then again, even grownups don’t have all the answers.
All my pillows are in a garbage bag in my attic. My blankets are up there too, along with all my dry-cleanable only sweaters and my winter coats, because March fooled me again. I’m sleeping directly on my mattress, with a sheet and comforter, or I guess trying to sleep. Because it was. It happened again. It was lice.
Did you have lice as a kid? I never did. My first experience with this plague was at 24, not even two whole years ago. I jinxed myself writing that last post, I suppose. Never again will I call an “urge” an “itch.”
My body is a petri dish, where germs and bugs and anxiety come to thrive. Growing up, my family affectionately (or at least, I hope affectionately) referred to me as “Sick Girl.” I was sick on every holiday, birthday, or major event you could imagine. I had strep throat so often, I’m pretty sure amoxicillin should have just been on permanent hold for me at the pharmacy. But guess what: I’m still Sick Girl. Or Sick Lady, maybe? One of the things people tend to say when you start teaching preschool is that your immune system is going to be out of this world. What they don’t tell you is that in order to obtain that out of this world immunity, you will be sick. All. The. Time. Yeah, sure, I probably won’t get the flu virus that was going around last year, but this year’s is almost surely going to hit me. Because I am at the forefront of germs. Kids don’t stop getting sick. Germs and viruses and bacteria don’t go away, they just change as we become immune to them. As we adapt, the germs do too. So every time something new is going around, one of the kids is going to get it. I’m usually the next in line.
I’m not sure how much more I can take. Five days ago I had bugs crawling in my head. I’m the girlfriend that probably gave her boyfriend lice. I’m the reason he shaved off his beautiful hair. (R.I.P. beautiful hair.) Last week I learned about something called rectal strep. Have you ever thought about how similar your butthole is to your throat? It’s an image I wish had never entered my head. My anxiety is building, to the point where I constantly feel like I’m walking across a tiny thread stretched out between my bed and my place of work, and the only place I really feel safe is tucked away under the covers, or at least three beers in.
All I’m really trying to say is: be nice to teachers. Because the kids often aren’t, and the sicknesses never are. They just keep coming and coming and coming, like the Energizer Bunny of runny noses and violent coughs. And if you’re a hypochondriac like me, it’s hard to feel safe around those bacteria soaked monsters (I mean children, of course). Soon I will escape the germs. Keep your fingers crossed for me.
I’ve got an itch.
It’s for some sort of change. Well, really, it’s for drastic change. It’s to grow up, to figure myself out, to treat myself better. It’s an itch for immediate change: to feel happier, more energetic, more satisfied, more self-disciplined, stronger instantly. But then, in the back of my head, I’ve got another very simple, very stupid itch.
I’m looking at my unfolded laundry, shuffling through old notebooks, and sipping on my third cup of coffee. The clock reads 9:16, and I just have an itch. I’m not going to scratch.
Being an adult is hard though, right? I’m terrible at it, and yet my job is to take care of little people who are okay with yogurt and snot dripping down their faces, of little people who will ignore you until you lie and say, “I’ve got cookies!” At work I get to build with legos, color, and dance. My job is mostly to play, and when it’s not, my way of handling drama may not be as “teacherly” as some might prefer. I’ve told a little girl to push someone back after being shoved a few too many times. I told a child in the midst of a breakdown over his toppled lego tower that “things fall apart, and you have to rebuild them.” Sometimes I tell kids not to touch me or talk to me... at all... for the rest of the day. But! All that aside, the kids call me a “grownup” so that must mean I am. Do other grownups still call their mom every time they get sick, too?
I spend my days caring for a gaggle of other little people. When I come home, the last person I want to take care of is myself. Where’s the person that’s going to do my taxes and take my garbage out and bring me seltzer when I’m sick and buy me new shoes when my old ones fall apart? Why do I have to remind myself that a box of Cheez-Its and a bottle of wine for dinner is not a good idea? There should be someone to do that for me!
Strangers tell me that there’s “a special place in heaven” for me, that I’m a “saint,” that I must be “so patient” when they find out that I work with preschoolers. There’s not. I’m not. I’m definitely not. Teaching young children is not a saint-worthy occupation--we all lose our tempers, we all yell and say things that we shouldn’t, we ignore fights between kids and let them fend for themselves. There are mornings where I throw temper tantrums about getting out of bed: real life tantrums, kicking and hitting the entire time I’m getting myself dressed. Don’t reserve some special spot up there in the sky for me, I just want a vacation. Because I’ve got another itch.
It’s to smoke a cigarette and it’s to shave the hair off my head. It’s to pick up and move far away, or maybe to buy a house. It’s deciding whether I want to wake up and go for a run in the morning, or just to sleep until my five minute warning. It’s to start applying to schools and to give up eating meat. It’s deciding between a childhood dream, a new hobby, or health and dental insurance. I can’t sort out any of my own thoughts clearly enough because I want the same things that I do not want. I’ve got an itch that I can’t quite place. Because people have stopped saying things like good job and when you grow up and take your time; because people ask a lot of questions. I want to scratch, to gnaw away in my head until I get down to the very bottom of it, the most basic of basic, the essentials. What do you want to be when you grow up? What do you do for a living? What’s your career path? When are you getting married? Have you thought about kids? I’ve got an itch. Someone hold onto my hands.
heavy heeled when walking; heavy handed when pouring a drink