I never really got into the homecoming hoopla when I was in high school. The only thing it meant to me was pajama day and attending one football game a season. I know that homecoming is meant for the graduates, but after I graduated high school, I didn’t really care. I only went to one homecoming game.
That was it.
When I was teaching, homecoming still meant pajama day (the second-best day of the school year!) and attending a single football game, but it became something more. And not just an entire week of ridiculous dress-up days, either. (Although, I participated in those with far more enthusiasm and school spirit than I ever did in high school.) I’m not much of a sports fan, but I always went to that single football game and cheered my heart out and rubbed elbows with the recent (and not-so-recent) graduates and their parents and their siblings and grandparents. (Such is life in a small town--everyone turns out for the school sporting events.)
It was never truly homecoming for me, though, because I was already home.
That made this year my first true homecoming.
Homecoming never meant much to me as a student. It meant quite a bit more to me as a teacher. But this year, as a former teacher, I revisited the topic, and homecoming took on a new sort of significance.
Last Friday I went to that homecoming game and “chaperoned” the following dance (I pretty much just danced).
In the spirit of homecoming, of coming home, I returned to the little school that had been my home for seven beautiful years, and for the first time, I understood what homecoming is all about. It’s about hugs and spirit and face paint and shrieks of laughter and joy and the best pork chops (on a stick, even!) that I’ve ever had in my life.
It’s about being embraced by those you’ve missed.
And embraced I was—I was mauled with hugs and love and kind words, and my dorky dance moves were a hit. And although I did shed a few bittersweet and frustrated tears on the ride back to my house—I miss that school, those people like crazy, and I hate that my epilepsy stole that from me—I must, like a high school graduate, move on. I must create myself a new home, but always remember and celebrate the first.
This morning, for the first time since I was six, I DIDN’T have my first day of school.
It was so strange—getting the son up and packing him a lunch and rushing him out the door, and then…not having anywhere to go myself. Not having anything to do.
Because I’m not a teacher anymore.
It’s so weird. I felt this immense freedom when I initially quit my job, and now…I’m embarrassed to admit this, but when I go into a store and see a school supply display, I nearly break down and cry.
I can’t stop thinking about everything I gave up.
I catch myself lesson planning in my sleep—I wake up with brilliant ideas about my classes, and then I remember that they’re not my classes to teach anymore.
I keep running into former students, or getting texts or emails or actual paper letters (from old coworkers, from past students, from parents of past students—I got the nicest one from a mom whose son graduated in 2009. That’s FIVE YEARS AGO. I bawled.) A 2014 graduate and her mother volunteered to help us decorate for my sister’s wedding and let us use their beautiful things. (And trust me when I say, that wedding would not have been possible without their help.)
So, instead of heading off to school today, I spent quite a bit of time staring at the inside of my closet instead.
There, on the walls inside of my office closet, I have erected a shrine to commemorate my teaching experience.
It can only be called a shrine. It’s pretty spectacular—all my nerd posters, a ton of pictures, student artwork, encouraging notes, the wooden top of my first podium (autographed by the graduating classes of 2007, 2008, and 2009), and the bookshelf that was repaired and painted by the late, great David Sukalski. I have a drawer full of letters and cards and thank-you notes and blessings and well wishes. All of the “Welcome Back!” signs the kids made me after I was gone on medical leave are there, and, of course, the “We’re going to miss you…a lot!” poster that a bunch of kids signed for me on my last day. (Which totally warmed my heart, even though “a lot” was written incorrectly as one word.)
It’s hard to open those doors without shedding a few tears. It’s overwhelming, seeing all of those emotions/love/memories in one place. It’s nostalgic. It’s beautiful.
But I had to shut those doors.
It’s one of the reasons I put the shrine in my closet. (The main one was a lack of adequate wall space.) But it ended up being a pretty cool metaphor: I needed to remind myself that those doors are closed now. I can always open them up and feel that rush of emotions/love/memories, but they must close, so I can walk through the next door in my life.
And now, I sit here, alone, in my office, writing.
Which is exactly what I’ve always wanted to do.