April 2018

Sunday, October 7, 2012

First Day of School

Growing up, fall meant red and yellow leaves covering our North Carolina lawn. It meant temperatures and humidity shifting from summer swelter. It meant new outfits for school, new pencils and notebooks.

Fall felt like a new year more than January first with its fireworks ever did.

I would have a new teacher, or maybe a bunch of them, and a new gaggle of classmates who would be my friends or foes.

I might get smarter, or discover some new way in which I was smart...or not smart at all.

Fall meant volleyball season, new players and perhaps a new coach. It meant being surprised by my growing body's athleticism.

This fall, at 48 years of age, I’m going back to school, but I’m not getting to choose my tin lunch box like I did in elementary school. (My favorite was my Charlie Brown lunchbox because entrepreneurial Lucy was there charging five cents for a therapy session. I wonder if Lucy had her Masters in Social Work. Probably not. She probably didn’t have a medical degree either, though she advertised herself as a psychiatrist. Poser.)

If I were choosing a lunch box today, I would surely choose an Incredibles lunchbox featuring Elastigirl. (Dash wouldn’t be on there. Just marks indicating that he had raced through, but was too fast for his image to be captured.)

Now Ann says I’m too old for a tin lunch box, and I don’t have the balance to carry it anyway, so I take a much more mature washable cloth lunch bag in the shape of a purse (or a “bag” as the hip ones call their suitcases aka purses aka bags these days.) My lunch bag is bright red with colorful polka dots. Very mature.
I am beginning a masters program at the University of Washington's School of Social Work. In this school, I hope that I will learn new ways to give to a world that has given so much to me.

Last Saturday I spent my first day in class from 9 am to 4 pm. That’s a long day. 

The school helps me manage my fatigue by storing an anti-gravity chair for napping. They even deliver it to my classroom on the one day a month when I have classes.

I made it through Saturday's seven hours by napping for an hour during the lunch break and for a half an hour during the afternoon break and then falling into bed when I got home.
I also made it through because my classmate Yvette picked me up and took me to school and gave me a ride home afterwards so that I didn’t have to take the bus. (I love the bus but all of that stimulation, waiting, and figuring out when to pay wear me out.)

I also survived the day because it was interesting: we spent a lot of time getting to know one another and our professor. The experience reminded me of how important relationships are in schools, any schools, something that I knew theoretically in working with high school students and now I remember experientially.

(I’ll write only generally about our class because we have agreed to confidentiality, and I wouldn’t want to betray that trust.)

Before coming to class, we each prepared a "culture chest" which we would share with one another in the afternoon. On the outside of the chest were indications of how the world sees us, often in reference to cultures that we look like we are a part of. (For me: Southerner, dyke, crip, teacher, blogger, liberal, Christian.) In the inside of the chest were reminders of our true selves, deeper and more complex than the outer symbols. (For me, a poem--of course--and photographs.)

Years ago, I did this assignment as a way to start the year with high school freshmen in a World Cultures Humanities class. I’m glad to experience it from a student’s perspective and to realize how interesting it was for me and how much more quickly I began to know my classmates. I hope my freshmen found it this interesting.

I also realize that the professor, Steve, set up the class as a safe space, and I wonder if I attended to emotional safety as much as I should have and if my students felt safe sharing their culture chests. I hope so, but I’m guessing I fell short here.

Classmates presented their culture chests one at a time. A couple cried as they presented or heard others’ presentations.

Because carrying a box would have been too hard for me to maintain my balance, I did my culture chest as a powerpoint. That way I could save the “culture chest” to a thumb drive and slip it into my pocket. My class was encouraging to me about this variation. This seems like an awfully kind group of people.

There are 23 students in the class: 4 men and 19 women, and I wondered how the guys were feeling, especially as so many of us who are women made it clear that we’re no wilting violets: no fainters here (well, except for me, but that’s due to brain tumors, not fragility.)

I noticed other patterns in the presentations, too. Lots of folks talked about their families, especially about their mothers and their children. (The only people who passed around photos were those who passed photos of their children. I loved that, but I found myself wishing that someone would pass around a photo of a pet.)

People tended to talk about their sexual/affectional identities, their wealth and riches (or lack thereof), and their religion (or lack thereof). I was especially interested that those who are atheists or agnostics saw this as a central part of their identities.

I would have liked to see the boxes, as they were small and far away, and I don’t see too well. Michael was sitting beside me and showed me the outside of his box, which was a work of art. I thought that the care and artistry said as much about him as the images.

Our professor, Steve, emphasized his belief that, “To whom much is given, much will be expected.”

So much has been given to me. This class is just further evidence of how much I am given. I hope that I will give back to the world, in the future and now, with the spirit of gratitude that such grace requires.


1 comment:

  1. New beginnings. Gratitude. Learning to thrive even though life has taken an unexpected turn or two. Or three. Mary, you are an inspiration to me, always.


Please comment: I'd love to hear your thoughts!