To Sail or Walk

Summer is drawing near, bringing with it Floridian vacations with family, cookouts amid 90 degree afternoons, and an opportunity for a little soul-searching.  I’m not sure how other teachers begin their summer.  Alcohol and long morning naps surely are incorporated in some way.  My Aunt Sue often visit us in June and July when we were kids, before she retired after nearly thirty-years teaching science in Arkansas.  She would bring large plastic bins — the size of pound-cakes — filled with a powerful concoction of alcohol and fruit-juice for which my mom would ceremoniously clear a place in the family freezer to harden overnight.  The next day the two of them, Mom and Aunt Sue, would extract ice cream scoops and dig out the slushie mixture with the same care and joy as a miner unearthing a golden cache.   They’d sit out by the pool and while away the day until they’d be too exhausted or drunk to move.

“My summer has begun!” Aunt Sue would shout.  “No kids.  No grading.  This is the life!”

I’m often amazed at the sense of release we — the teaching community — feel at the approach of June and July.  The sense of freedom is a palpable thing: giving off the odor of sunscreen streaked sweat and the sugary sweetness of melting snowballs.  The weight of the world is momentarily lifted and suddenly you find you’re able to breathe again.

Not being much of a drinker, I do not have a spiked slush to mark this occasion.  Mostly, my thoughts stray to self-reflection and whether this will prove the year I quit my job.

I’ve considered it for some time now.  The temptation is too strong to ignore; although, practicality in the form of bimonthly paychecks always carries me back to the front line every September.  Not that my salary earns me much, but a gamer cannot live off Tetris along.  Some days my interior monologue plays out like the old morality plays with the devil on one shoulder, white-toga-ed angel on the other.  My parents typically embody both sides of the argument with my Dad urging me to abandon a stressful poor-paying job while my mother embodies the voice of frank pragmatism.

“Repeat after me,” Dad says.  “‘I Quit!’  To hell with them!”

“That’s fine,” Mom counters, “but what will you do then?  Do you have another teaching job lined up?”

To which I have no answer.

Two reasons guide my indecision:  1) If I choose to leave, I’m not teaching again . . . at least not right away.   The world is vast, and I am still young.  During the past five years, I’ve regretfully turned away offers to visit Ireland, New Zealand, and Japan.  Maybe investigate jobs that do not stir up so much anxiety after every decision, like a beach bum.  Sure, there are other schools, other positions with higher salaries, but those who escape from prison are loathed to see themselves caged again regardless of the cage’s decor.  And yet….

2)  Teaching may be my vocation, whether I want it to be or not.

I’ve been told more than once that I have . . . some skill at my job.  That I teach well and interact with kids well and possess the power to help them.  Change the world one child at a time and all that.

Which is good, right?  Problem is, half the time I don’t see it.  I’m so obsessed with what I ‘should’ do.  Always choosing the ‘best’ decision, that I’m not entirely sure what I want anymore.  Responsibility: curse of the eldest child.

There’s a story of a traveler making his way down river on the barge — yes, a parable; deal with it.  Despite the seasickness, he’s been traveling downstream for quite some time.  He yearns to disembark, to travel over land which doesn’t cause his brow to sweat, stomach to heave, and head to spin; however, everyone tells him it’s the right way to get to where he needs to go.  So he heads their advice, mile after mile, because it is ‘the right way.’  Until, one day tired of hugging the side of the boat day after day, he works up the courage to jump overboard and swim to land.  But upon reaching shore, he finds himself in a dense forest utterly lost.  Day after day, he walks in circles, never moving anywhere, which frankly doesn’t bother him because there’s less vomiting.

Point is.  I’m caring less and less about what is the ‘right’ decision, and more about ‘my’ decision.  Unfortunately, determining what I want exactly is proving difficult.  Being the oldest of eight siblings is all about compromise: choosing whatever is best for the group, the family.  Popcorn vs popsicles, minigolf vs bowling.  All of our choices followed parliamentary procedure. But with more and more of the family leaving home, having kids, building their own houses and lives, I’ve become my own master, my own king.  Ruler of my own fate.  Sole captain and crew of my own destiny.  The entire prospect fills me with such fear that I can barely breathe.

Pizza or Chinese?  God, I hope I don’t screw it up.

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