I wanted to walk to school on my last day.
It was a bright winter morning and I wanted to feel the cold on my face as I walked up the hill toward Elm Street. It was to be my last walk as a teacher and I wanted to savor the moment.
As it turned out I wasn’t able to savor anything. Strangely, I’d slept late, something I rarely do. Consequently, I spent the morning frantically trying to gather up the gifts and cards I’d put together for my students and teacher friends. I kept messing up filling out the card envelopes and had to start over several times. I forgot the name of a teacher who I worked with…it just left my brain…gone. I was not myself.
I missed breakfast, another thing I hardly ever do. I eat like a Hobbit…breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, and then lunch. I missed breakfast and forgot to pack a lunch.
Ten minutes before I had to be at school I asked the Fiery Irishgirl to throw something in my lunch box while I stumbled about the garage searching for a box big enough to hold all the gift bags. When I looked at the size of the box I needed I realized I wouldn’t be walking to school. I swallowed hard, my breath a white puff in the cold garage.
What’s the big deal?
So, I can’t walk to school on my last day gazing at the frosted fields by Laurel Lane and the sun shimmering above the pines that stand sentinel near the big yellow house while contemplating the end of a chapter and the beginning of another.
Why do I think my life has to be like a Meg Ryan movie?
Haven’t I figured out by now that endings and good-byes don’t always wrap up nicely with a pretty bow on top? Not everything works itself out on top of the Empire State Building.
I sped off in the convertible.
Harried and un-made up, my hair splayed across my face, I parked and then tried to finagle the box of gifts out of the car, a vehicle I do not like for several reasons, one being the utter inconvenience of putting anything bigger than a Chinese take-out bag into the back seat. I managed to drag the box across the parking lot, retrieve my big key from my coat pocket to unlock the school door, then bumble my way down the corridor. Once I got the box into the classroom the day became like every other day.
All the normal struggles, all the normal resistances.
All the normal reminders, all the normal encouragements.
There was some reading and a little writing.
There was an uneventful music class and a skirmish-free recess.
I read the last chapter of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, thankful I didn’t choke up like I do every year when I get to place where Imogene Herdman bumps into the grace of God for the first time.
I handed out my gifts and a fourth grader made a speech complete with a bow. There was a group hug and then it was time for coats, hats and mittens to be gathered up. I led the last trek through the hallway to the waiting bus. One last goodbye and that was it.
That’s how it is with children.
What you see is what you get.
And what you get is them.
Children don’t care that good-byes are awkward and messy. They don’t hug quickly and they don’t divert their eyes. They don’t get it over with. They just stand there and look at you. They tell you exactly how they feel.
They put plastic jewels in an old puzzle box wrapped with lined paper because they want to give you something that sparkles. They will draw a picture of you and when they hand it to you they will tell you they love you.
On your last day you get their best coloring page, one they’ve worked on for weeks and were saving to hang in their room.
On your last day a wrapped gift made for someone else is pulled from a backpack and given to you instead.
“Aren’t you going to unwrap it?” Oh…yes, of course.
Peeling away the paper you see the photo of a child who just days ago rested in your arms after saying terrible things; a photo where she has refused to smile for the camera.
“You’re going to put it on your fridge, right?” Yes. Yes, I surely will.
Shortly before it was time to go home, I watched a child, unraveled with rage, rip up his papers and books. In his fury he threw everything, including the gift I gave him, fragile and sentimental, across the floor.
A child sitting next to him motioned for me. “Did you see? He threw your gift.”
“What if it’s broken?”
I think it’s going to be okay.
And it was. I don’t know how I knew, I just did.
Moments later, I watched as the sobbing angry child, tears streaming from his face reached his arm back, reaching, reaching until his small hand folded over the gift and, lifting it ever so gently, he placed it back on his desk. Unbroken. On my last day.