The Day After the Last Day

I walk into the classroom at my normal time, flip on the lights as usual – and find myself looking at a bare classroom. Tables pushed aside, chairs neatly stacked, everything extremely – and unusually – CLEAN.

The bell rings at 8:10, but there’s no cacophony of loud conversations from kids streaming into the building. After the flurry of yesterday’s worship and tears and hugging and graduation, the quiet is eerie. How did we get to this day so quickly?

I know what’s coming next, and I brace for it. In a matter of moments I’m hit by a wave of mixed emotions: relief, sadness, regret, guilt, joy, self-doubt, gratitude. . .

They may be surprised to know it, but I miss my students already. We’ve spent so much time together, shared so much of our lives, prayed for, annoyed, encouraged, and rejoiced with one another. I know all summer long I will think of things to tell them tomorrow – only to realize I won’t be seeing them.

I didn’t get it all done; I never do. I still had things for them to learn, ideas for them to chew over, topics to discuss. And I ask myself the inevitable, annual question: Did I do enough? Quickly followed by the others: What did I miss? Where could I have been more patient and loving? Whose needs went unmet? I know this last year was no cosmic accident: God put those kids in my class on purpose. I will trust that I carried out His work to the best of my ability.

And we did have some good times and some amazing moments. They all grew so much – inside AND out! I do believe they’re ready for what lies ahead, whether it’s 9th grade in junior high or freshman year in high school. And they WILL come back to visit; they always do.

Though they will never again be in Mrs. Acuna’s class, they will forever be MY students, MY “kids.”  I know it’s time to let go, but I’m so glad I can keep on praying for them.

For the next couple of days as I finish up in my classroom, I will hear the echoes of their voices, and I will both chuckle and wince over random memories. Then I will take one last look around the room, close the blinds and turn off the lights, and lock the door behind me. I will head down the hallway as usual – only this time it will be a couple of months before I return.

Class of 2010 in Victoria

Mount Saint Helens

On the way to school on May 18, my son asked why the 30th anniversary of the mountain blowing up was such a major event to adults.  My students echoed that sentiment:  “It happened so long ago – what’s the big deal?”

Sometimes when I get questions like these, my first reaction is to feel criticized and defensive.  I have to make a quick judgment regarding whether it’s a serious query or just an attempt to bait me.  If the questioner is serious and I react badly with a comment like, “You are just too young to understand!” or “Why do you always have to be so negative?”  I may damage the communication channel.

In this case I took the time to explain that when I was growing up, volcanoes were only found in exotic places like Hawaii, Iceland, and Ancient Italy.  To have one erupt practically in our own backyard was as bizarre as it would be to have Mount Rainier erupt, or to have the Pacific Coast hit by a devastating tsunami.

I went on to explain how sharing major events becomes a way of bonding.  The question “Where were you when. . .?” is always  good for several minutes of sharing not only memories but also emotions.   For my parents, such events include Pearl Harbor and The Day Kennedy Was Shot.  For my generation, the list includes Landing On The Moon and The Challenger Disaster.  For today’s teens (as well as the rest of us):  9/11 and The Day Michael Jackson Died.

It was a great moment for teaching about how adults think and feel, and I almost missed it.

A Tribute to My Mom

When I was 11 years old, my mom and I were the best of friends.  When I was in high school, we weren’t quite as connected, but we were still close.  My friends loved to come to my house and chat with her, and some of them still call her “Mom.”  When I was in college, she would drive from Seattle to Portland and back in one day, just to attend a choir concert.  When I had children of my own, she fed and bathed them as babies, read to them (and listened to them read) as toddlers, and chauffered them to doctor and orthodontic appointments and back once they reached school age (she’s still doing this).

Now, I’ll be the first to say this is not unusual mother/grandmother behavior.  But if you knew my mom’s story, you’d realize she had no model for this kind of nurturing.  She was the product of a broken home during the Depression, and she and her brother were shuttled between foster homes – to the point where she attended thirteen different schools before she graduated from 8th grade. 

Yet my mother was married to my father for almost 44 years – until he passed away in 2003.  She managed to raise all five of us kids in a pretty normal home, where dinner was eaten at the table, and birthdays were celebrated with homemade cakes and freedom from chores.  She was a stay-at-home mom until I was 13, which meant she was always there to take care of us when we were sick, and she knew all of our friends and their moms.

Our family certainly wasn’t perfect – we have skeletons rattling around in our closets, just like everyone else – but my mom always seemed to be right in the middle of whatever we kids were involved with.  I’ve always known I’ve had her support, and she’s still  there whenever I need her (and even sometimes when I don’t, which is when we can still clash).  She’s also there for the grandkids, as she’s been for them since the day they were born.

Mothers’ Day may be over, but it’s never a wrong time to appreciate one’s mom.  And I certainly appreciate mine.

(She’s a subscriber to this blog – supportive as always!)

I love you, Mom!

Birthday Eve

Tomorrow I turn 50. I was 14 the year my dad turned 50, and I remember teasing him about being half a century old! I don’t feel much older today than I did then.

But I’ve changed in at least one major way: 25 years ago I wanted nothing to do with junior highers. My husband and I were youth counselors at our church, and I would say, “Give me the high school kids, but keep those junior high kids away from me. Especially the boys!”

The boys in my 8th grade boys’ composition class would be shocked to hear that. “But you love us, Mrs. Acuna!” they would protest. And they would be right. Though sometimes they drive me crazy, I do love this age group – the boys and the girls. I find the workings of their minds fascinating, and their sense of humor an absolute joy (or absolutely disgusting, depending on the moment).

So what changed? Having kids of my own helped, but so did learning about the workings of the teen-aged brain and heart. Through listening to teens, observing their interactions and reactions, reading lots of literature, attending workshops, and lots of trial and error, I like to think I’ve gained a good understanding of who they are and why they do what they do. I’ve certainly gained a huge appreciation of the struggles they face as they plow on through the storms of adolescence.

It’s become my mission to share what I know with parents and anybody else who spends time with teens. I sometimes wonder if 50 isn’t too old to be teaching about teenagers (not to mention actually teaching teenagers!). But when I stop to think about it, I realize it’s only been through years of experience that I’ve learned what I have. So I’m going to keep pushing on, with a goal of improving adult/teen relationships through increased understanding.

I can’t promise, however, that I’ll still be doing this when I turn 70.

Not Really MIA

I don’t know if you’d noticed, but I WAS blogging every Wednesday and Sunday nights.  This week my schedule is messed up, and just in case anyone missed me, I thought I’d quickly fill you in:

My husband and I have been in Southern California since Wednesday night, helping to clean out my mother-in-law Emma’s apartment, since she is now in assisted living.  She and my father-in-law lived in that apartment for 35 years, so you can imagine how much stuff there was to go through.  The largest amount – and the most time-consuming – were the boxes and envelopes of photographs.

I found one taken of  Emma on her 13th birthday in 1939.  I gazed at it and pondered how much the world has changed for a 13-year-old today.  Imagine – 1939 was during the Depression, before we entered World War II, and long before PC’s, cell phones, electric cars, and iPods were anybody’s brainchild (brainchildren?).

In some ways her struggles to be independent from her parents were the same as those our teens face.  Yet without the influence of  TV and texting and the Internet,  I’m sure her world was much smaller than that of teens today.

I offer no great flash of insight or wisdom, other than to remind you that those same influences on our children can also be great resources for parents today.  Please share this blog with anyone whom you think might be interested, and may I also encourage you to leave questions or comments that I – or another helpful reader – might address.

One last thought – please label the backs of your photos.  Someday someone will be looking at them and wondering, “Who ARE these people?”

A Poetry Lesson

Thought for the day: It’s not wise to teach research-paper writing at the same time as the digestive system. Because, in case you hadn’t noticed, “theses” rhymes with “feces.” Go ahead and snicker – my 8th graders always do! (Should I be concerned about them knowing which of those are due on March 8?)

It’s a Blog Night, but I’m too under the weather to compose. I’ll just invite you to check out the new look of the site – and maybe leave a comment? I love comments!