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The Last First Day

I went to my son’s school tonight. This isn’t something that is abnormal. I’m there all the time. But tonight I went to help kindergarten students tour their new school and to give teachers a chance to meet the new grownups their students will go home to. I was this parent a year ago, watching my young son become a “big kid” right before my eyes. I was also entering my 16th year as a teacher, not unlike the teachers at my son’s school, eagerly anticipating the start of the year, however many this will mark for them.

What I didn’t know for certain on that date was that this would be my last time beginning a school year with a new group of students. This would be my last time greeting a group of high schoolers, introducing myself to them, walking through our syllabus, setting up a room to prepare for their arriva. There were so many lasts that I didn’t know would be lasts. There were so many small “start of school” things that I took for granted for so long. There were so many things I didn’t know I would grieve.

Last week, it dawned on me–and I don’t know why it took so long–that this will be the first, First Day of School that I am not starting the year as a teacher. And even though I think I have known that this is true for a while, I haven’t really internalized all the things that this means that I will not experience this Thursday when so many of my friends welcome students back to their classrooms.

I think this really hit me on Saturday night when I was telling my family about my BIG feelings. My mom was sitting to my left, and I think she understood more than most. You see, ever since I was a baby teacher, just starting out, I did a couple things. The first thing I did was order a new dress. And I always, always sent my mom a first day of school picture.

Yes, you read that right.

Until I was 38 years old, my mother asked for (and received) a picture of me on the first day of every school year that I attended school, AND every year that I was a teacher. At first, her request annoyed me. I would ask her: “Don’t you think I’m a little old for this?” And she would say, “I don’t care whether you’re a student or not. Anyone going to school on their first day must send a photo.” And so I did. Year after year. Somewhat begrudgingly.

And then it got cute. I added a husband to those photos, and some years, I had arms full of babies in my photos as well.

And, truth be told, I loved this tradition. I am more than a little sad that it’s July 25 and I haven’t had a need to order myself a back to school dress, and come Thursday morning when I take pics of my baby headed off to first grade, there will be no need for a picture of me.

I’m not going to school. For the first time ever, I will not walk through the doors of a school building; I will not rehearse my welcome; I will not stand outside my door jabbering with colleagues and helping panicked freshmen navigate their schedules; I will not create seating charts; I will not plan lessons.

And it is likely that I will never again experience Friday Night Teacher Tired (IYKYK). This isn’t something I’m all that mad about, TBH.

I am feeling some big feelings about those “never agains” this week. You see, teaching isn’t just what people do for (very little) money. Teaching is something we do for love, and for passion, and for laughter and joy. Teaching is something we do for kids, for ourselves, for families, and for the future. Teaching is absolutely a calling, and while I am not a proponent of gaslighting teachers and telling them money shouldn’t matter (it freaking matters, folks), I am a fan of supporting and loving on teachers in every way we can. Every day that we can.

Because I am them. I was them. I will ALWAYS be them.

Two years ago yesterday, the most influential person in my life as a teacher died after a short battle with pancreatic cancer. In the final years of his life, we lost touch, mostly because of some personal boundaries I set, and partially because life’s circumstances became complicated after I became Andrew’s mom.

I wrote about him on a Facebook post–but it will never do justice to just how much I wish he was here to mentor me today. The old him. The pre-boundary him. The Before Mark. The After Mark….just too twisty. But Before Mark always knew what to say. Before Mark would remind me that even though I am sad today, and even though I have been a little sad and a lot twisty about my new life for a pretty long freaking time, that it’s OK to be sad and twisty. He would tell me, while leaning back in his chair with both arms raised behind his head, head resting on his hands, that I need to stop being such a wuss.

He would tell me all of that, and then he would say: “But I understand. There’s nothing quite like the love affair that one has with teaching. There is nothing like building relationships and forming a little family in your classroom.” He would agree with me that teaching is not an experience that can be replicated in any other setting.

He would understand.

Teachers get it. Teachers know that back-to-school rituals are sacred, that there is something about starting a tradition and keeping that tradition, even if it’s a personal one like sending your mom a first day of school picture. Or buying a first day dress at your favorite boutique in town. Or starting your syllabus chat with sarcastic memes (don’t come for me–it was a hit).

But this year, the only person in the back to school photos will be my first grader. And that’s OK–in some ways, it’s nice that I get to make this one and the ones that will follow solely about HIS experience. I fought for years to get more time with him, and now I have it. It’s distributed differently, but I do have it.

So, when I suit him up Thursday with his little backpack, his Minion lunchbox, and his new shoes, I’ll do my best to choke back the tears that surely will leak out of my eyes. They will be tears of pride, not only to be sending my baby to an amazing school for first grade, but tears of joy.

Tears of joy for the fifteen incredible years that I spent with teenagers who are now becoming amazing adults. Tears of gratitude for the lifetime of experiences and memories I will carry with me for the rest of my days, and for the teachers who will treat my baby like one of their own as they create their own little families in their own classrooms this year. And instead of allowing myself to be sad for too long, I’ll find out his teacher’s favorite Starbucks drink and I’ll take it to her on days when I miss kids the most. I’ll show up for her the way I have promised to show up for teachers–the ways I wish someone had shown up for me.

And I’ll allow that to be enough for me–because showing up for teachers is what I do now. And it’s important, maybe now more than ever, that I do it. After all, they are the ones pouring into my son, and giving him so much of what I gave to so many other mamas’ babies over the years, and they need support, not just from me, but from all of us, in order to do that and to do it well.

First Year Teacher Lindsey. August, 2006

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