Books · Education · True North

A New School Year: the Trouble and Triumph of Transition

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What an honor to be placed alongside Obama and a leather bound journal -in a college dorm room no less!

Let’s talk about this picture.  I’m honored, truly, to have been brought along to college in any way, shape, or form.  But then to be placed lovingly and respectfully next to a book about Obama and a leather bound journal TO WRITE IN with some newly sharpened old school, hard core pencils is just plain spectacular.  But it gets even better.  This photo was texted to me by a former student on move in day of her freshmen year at the University of New Hampshire. Admittedly, I teared up a bit.  I teared up because she brought my book (True North in blue above– if you haven’t read it, you should) to college; I teared up because she was present for my first ever writer-led workshop for writers (who were not already my students) at Plymouth State University this summer; I teared up because here was a girl of summer whom I’ve known since the days before she actually spoke words heading off to college; I teared up because she took a picture and the time to send it to me on MOVE IN day at UNH, which is by far one of the most transitional days in anyone’s first two decades of life.  Yet, she did it because she knew how much it would mean–and she was right.

I remember my own move in day like it was last year, and not 23 years ago yesterday, August 28.  Weird to remember the actual day.  But I kept a journal, so I know this is a true fact.  Connecticut College a lifetime ago.  Crazy to think that if I was one of those people to have a baby straight out of high school, they could be that old (and although very grateful to not have had that experience, I am paying close attention to my peer group, many of whom are sending kids off to high school or college this fall.  Our little girl told me last night at bedtime, which was (bad mom) a little late, “Mommy, I’m really excited about kindergarten, but I’m also a teensy bit nervous.”

I also feel a combination of butterflies and anxiety at the beginning of every school year, 12 of my own in Merrimack, 4 at Connecticut, and now tackling year number 20 in public education, transitions are damn hard!  Unlike either of our children did or will, I cried openly every day of kindergarten for weeks. Middle school was terrible because I missed the eagerly anticipated MOVE UP DAY for a family wedding.  The college  transition was more challenging because I had a boyfriend in a different state, which in retrospect I wish had not been the case.    Also, during this time, I wrote over 100 letters home to various friends and my parents’ friends.  I know this because I exhausted an entire roll of stamps in that period of time.  But people wrote back and it was wonderful and amazing- real mail was an actual artifact from a time and a place I was comfortable being in my own skin, a reminder of where I came from and who I was, distinctly different from a seemingly insecure young woman from NH whose “city roommate” was forever locking her out accidentally.

There are those of us in the world for whom transitions will always be rugged.  Whether you are entering kindergarten like my baby girl tomorrow, or finding your way for the first time through university, or like other former students who are starting careers now or getting married and starting families of their own, change is damn hard.  T

And remember that part in True North, which I know you have all read and memorized and also keeping on your important shelf next to Obama, when life gets squirrelly on you (and, yes, squirrelly is a real word) perspective is the best remedy:

From True North’s prologue:

“Have a sense of your true north, which makes you ready to focus your attention on building relationships, taking on challenges, and pursuing your passion…Losing your way in the world is scary.  If possible, view the world from the top of a mountain on a clear, starry night or bright morning, and remember that you have lived before and will live again (xviii).”

And even if you don’t believe in reincarnation as I’m not sure I entirely do, I find the concept comforting.  If you are a schoolteacher, one of the luckiest kinds of people to be, each year is a new start, a new beginning, another opportunity to improve upon what came before.  So whether you are hitting that first college class this week (which you will clearly rock upon showing up, prepared, and ready to read, discuss, etc), or entering year 40 as an educator, start each day greeting the world with a big, fat hello and here I am; hope for the best; and, remember, the day will always end.  My goal tomorrow will be to looking for those faces in my room, the ones for whom transition absolutely sucks, and I’m going to be extra patient, understanding, and, well, overall, simply hilarious so they will want to come back the next day. The triumph comes when we look back and remember and remind one another how far we’ve come.

And in exciting other news, I just booked a promotional book gig on Martha’s Vineyard at the Oak Bluffs Public Library on Saturday, October 15 — Thank you to my sister in law Holly Thomas for helping a girl out!  

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