I Know

I’ll be honest, admit to you that there I times when I wish I wasn’t.

Wasn’t going to school. Wasn’t headed to a third-floor classroom with a whiteboard that doesn’t erase and two many piles of work that needs graded.

It’s usually in the morning.

Driving to work at 7am, alongside other commuters; pausing at stop signs, red lights for still other commuters to walk to their offices, walk to their trains, walk to work.

I watch them, there in the growing morning light, and sometimes, I feel the unsettling pangs of envy rise in my stomach.

I imagine their offices. Quiet, serene places with just a little too much florescent light. I imagine them attending meetings, taking notes, stepping through cubicle-lined warehouse buildings with file folders in arm, two-inch heels settling noiselessly into the plush hallway carpet.

It’s then that I’m jealous.

Jealous of what I don’t know, as I head into a day of what I do know.

The familiar four flights of stairs. The familiar smell of young tween masked with the forced freshness of mopping solution and Lysol wipes.

The familiar press of time versus conversation.

The familiar faces of I don’t understand this, I love this, He said this, I need help with this, I can’t do this. 

In the morning, just some days, the unknown, the possibly better, glows orange and appealing in the morning light, and I feel my heart wonder, consider, what it might be like to leave the teacher life behind me.

Oddly, after school, in the exhausted aftermath of 6.5 hours of constantly meeting needs, anticipating needs overcoming needs, diffusing needs, I never consider the lives being lived in the cubicles, in the conference halls, in the office-bound work force.

The press of the hours I’ve just lived- the necessity of assimilating all this new information, the how he acted, what she needed, how they learned, what they missed, how I can help each of them- the mental and emotional job of recovering from one day, beginning to prepare for another, erases from my mind any trace of comparison, all whispers of I’d rather be and it would be better if…

Then, in the moments and hours after school, I am simply there. And I take one step forward, and then another, and I pour my mind and my heart into what is left of the day, and with that I am content.

It’s in the drive home, though, that I know.

Retracing in reverse the morning’s southbound drive, I know the route by heart now. My exhaustion and my autopilot combine, and I drive the pavement under slowly illuminating street lights, barely thinking of where I might be going.

I’m thinking, rather, of how things might change. What I might do tomorrow. The radio playing the same familiar, uplifting tunes as the morning, I get lost, wonderfully, deeply lost, in the realm of puzzles and problem solving. In those precious car minutes, between leaving school and the evening push of dinner, emails, reading, sleeping, I find myself consumed by the possibilities of how things might change, how God might work, the very next day.

In that time, I explore possible solutions to the problems I’ve watched unfold before me all day long. Problems of focus. Retaining. Organization. Planning. Cleaning. Note-taking. Supplies. I see them, there in my mind’s eye, and I explore solutions, to the background sound of K-Love’s evening jingles and the clicking of a blinking turn signal. How can this be smoother? How can I help her remember? How should that be organized? How could I answer this question?

I consider, I imagine, I plan, I pray, and right there in my car, with the window still down, the crisp fall air breezing lightly through the open space, I know. I know I’m in the right place. I know I’m doing the right thing. I know I’m doing what I was created to do, for this time.

Not because I live in a sea of warm fuzzies, not because anything about my day is easy, or even very peaceful.  But because even as my daily hours at work hit the double digits, I come home and I want to go back. I want to try a different approach. I want to start another day asking the Holy Spirit to come and guide. I want to see where the Lord takes our conversations for another day. I want to beg for His wisdom, and see where it leads.

I want to work and I want to serve, I want to open my heart wider, stretch my mind to the limits of its problem-solving capacity, because in the end, I know this classroom, these lives, are going somewhere, and every day, I want to be there for that. And in the now, before I see the change, before the light comes on, there’s still no place I’d rather be, because I’m watching the little steps, the tiny improvements, that are building lives, right before my eyes, and for that, I will work forever.

~Natalia

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Rumbling Contentment

I love routine, I think.

Watching the wheel of seasons, times, days, come spinning back around full circle.

And then all over again.

I’m spinning a new wheel just now, in many ways.

But some things never change.

Like God’s grace.

Like the fresh air in the morning as I step down the front stairs.

Like the sun setting over a slice of Chicago.

Like the El tracks clacking up streets, around corners.

The same clicking rumble of peace and contentment in every shaking, roaring turn of the tracks.

~Natalia

All Over Again

I remember, during the weeks and months that I taught kindergarten, that the little ones I spent my days with never really left me. Sights in the city, on my commute, at home, reminded me of them. I heard their voices in my head, echoes of their most popular phrases, their calls of teacher! teacher! My dreams found me back in the classroom, surrounded by tiny people with big voices and even bigger needs. Their futures- tomorrow, 1st grade, as adults- hung over me like a vast, dark balloon, and the realm of that bright classroom was where my mind lingered in most of its spare time.

One week into the 5th grade school year, these eleven students- older and yet somehow just the same as kindergarten- have begun to take a hold of me in the same way. Wrapped in our little room for four hours in the morning, we move- sometimes trudging, sometimes swinging, through Bible, math, social studies, reading, writing. We’ve a 45-minute lunch and recess pause in the middle of the day, and I’m in the office, in the 3rd grade room, at my own desk, spooning food from a Tupperware, gazing around the mid-day havoc of a classroom scattered with papers, notebooks, pencils, textbooks.

The bell rings, long and loud, just as the whistle blows in the school yard outside our window, four flights down. Those stairs, those towering, twisting stairs, together with 8 hours on my feet, are the reason I’ll be built in June; it’s upwards of ten times a day that I’m up and down- trailing kids, enforcing quiet, accidentally falling into hushed conversations with them with every step up.

The afternoon brings work, specials, grading, recording, organizing, dismissal, and stairs- oh those stairs all over again. And then, somehow it’s 6pm and I’ve been at school nearly 11 hours and, aftercare over, the halls are quiet, the only sounds the background buzz of Chicago movement, and the infrequent slamming and scraping of the front door, far below.

And the evening hours bring rest, planning, eating, an occasional Netflix show while wrapped, even as I am now, in the fuzzy Muppet-like blanket on the futon in the apartment. But always at the back of my mind, ever present beyond my immediate thoughts, I’ve the next day, the next hours spent with those eleven learners. And in the morning, when the alarm goes off at 6, when I walk into the still-quiet school at 7:30, I might not be ready, and there are one thousand things I’d like to try, one hundred ways I think I could improve, but I will be there, and so will they, and together, we will learn another day. All over again.

~Natalia

A Corner Greeting

It’s the backpacks I notice first. Blue, bright, still crisp with the new-year creases of fresh bookbags. They’re not fancy, not embellished with superheroes or elaborate patterns. Rather, as I wait at the red light, second car in from the bustling intersection, my eyes are drawn to the vibrant backpacks, simple yet sophisticated where they rest, strapped tight to their owners.

The boys, a pair of them, arrive at the crosswalk just seconds before I roll slowly to a stop, mere yards from where they wait for the white walk sign. Standing there at the corner, fidgeting slightly with the sway of boys who must move, they seem out of place, their presence unexpected and oddly unexplainable. Chicago Public schools have not yet begun, but their pressed khaki pants, matching navy sweaters, white collars peaking out around freshly scrubbed necks can only mean one thing: school, at least for these two, is back in session.

I watch as the bigger boy, his freshly hair cut into the neat lines and waves that I’ve come to love, reaches a hand still little-boy soft up to his shoulder, adjusting his bookbag nonchalantly, even as he turns to talk to the one beside him. The smaller one, mere inches shorter than his companion, listens with eyes serious, his face reserved compared to the open movement of the one speaking.

Painfully aware of the impending light change, the glowing green of GO, I watch out the window still, my eyes and heart somehow- inexplicably- drawn to the young pair on the corner. There are more than 2.7 million people, stories, lives in this city, and I’m watching the afternoon chapter of the lives of two young ones unfold right here at the intersection of Western and Milwaukee and I can’t look away.

The taller boy is moving around now, his eyes roving over the cracked concrete under him as his feet slowly rotate, spinning him on his axis. But then, suddenly, he’s looked up, something down the street, behind my line of vision has caught his eye. I watch the boy’s face light, watch his smile spread wide, eager yet faintly restrained, across his round face.

Mere seconds later, a man my age- maybe older- arrives at the corner. He’s neatly dressed, the sleeves of his button-up rolled to his elbows, his own bookbag hanging just below the waistband of dark denim jeans. He has a short beard and mustache, and his own dark hair is styled and gelled similarly to that of the boys, just as his dark, creamy skin parallels their own.

The taller boy, still grinning, has straightened, his head carried higher, his shoulders resting more relaxed, in the presence of this new companion. Greetings I cannot hear are exchanged, and the pair grasp hands, hug each other in the half handshake/half back-slapping hug way that men sometimes do. Then, his smile still unwavering, his gaze still directed admiringly at the man, the taller boy turns to the smaller one. Introductions are made, the man extends a hand, shakes the boy’s small one-

And the light changes. I’m to move on.

So I do, accelerating into the intersection and leaving the three behind. My last glimpse of the two boys, their older friend, has them stepping, one foot outstretched, into the newly-paved street. Onto the next block, the next activity, the next corner greeting, the next chapter. Just as I drove east, north, to my own next chapter.

~Natalia