Roots


Somehow, where a person grows up defines them. This seems to be a recurring theme in my life lately. 

At my recent checkup, my doctor asked whether I had made any trips to third world countries lately. I jokingly said “Indiana, to visit my sister”. He asked where I was originally from and when I said Minnesota, he seemed satisfied. “That makes sense, because why would she move to Indiana if you were from the East coast?” Then he apologized in a lighthearted way for his prejudicial view on what he considered a “downward” move. I laughed and said it was no big deal, my husband has felt the same way since I met him. He considered New England to be the proverbial promised land. 

New Englanders aren’t the only ones guilty of an inordinate pride based solely on geographic location.  On the highway which slithers northward along Lake Superior toward Canada, there stood a billboard blazing the words, “Tired of the rat race?” I discovered recently that piece of advertising shaped my entire view on where to live. I’ve always felt that the “smart ones” escape big city life to settle in some remote northern territory. A place paradisaic in beauty during the summer, but barely habitable in winter due to massive snow banks and deadly wind chills. These are the ones who were living their hamster wheel lives, but one day while fishing on a northern lake during their one week of vacation, they decide it’s not worth it.  They decide to quit fighting the traffic snarls on their way to a dog-eat-dog corporate job in the city. Why wait until retirement to enjoy nature every day?

I was not one of those “smart ones” trickling in from the nearest big city. I was lucky enough to have been born there. I didn’t have to learn my lesson the hard way. I was already in God’s country, and only I was going to choose where and when to leave. 

Researchers have pinpointed a connection between our sense of smell and our memory. A few years ago on a family road trip we drove through Wisconsin in summer. The smell of the wildflowers and fresh mown grass along the country highway took me instantly back to my childhood. It felt strange to have my senses supersede conscious thought and transport me bodily to a time and place I didn’t know I had forgotten. No gourmet dinner could smell better. No luscious perfume could have delighted me more. In that moment of recognition I became “me” in a way I hadn’t felt in decades. 

I feel enriched for having these realizations about my roots. Would I have had them without leaving? Maybe not. Each place I have moved has set off a new evolution of self within me. I first seek to understand and fit in with the locals. At some point I discover some fundamental way I differ. Unconsciously, I analyze whether this difference is something I like and agree with or not. At some still further point I inevitably find a difference between myself and my new abode that I refuse to assimilate. I then go through a rebellion of sorts, as I stubbornly assert my own identity shaped by my home. 

I’ve come to welcome this process. Even though some of it can be painful in the moment.  It’s part of what makes travel and moving so positive. It has helped me learn about myself in ways that would never have been possible. The only problem with this is people who understand my perspective have become fewer and farther between. 

The other day we were walking on a quiet street in Pawtucket and saw a home for sale. I wondered aloud what it might cost (this curiosity comes from having a builder husband). My friend asked whether we would consider buying a home there. I said probably not. We would be more likely to look for a place in a quieter area. She couldn’t understand what more I could be looking for. Only 2 cars had driven by on that street in 30 minutes. She said, “that’s only because you come from ultra wilderness.” I agreed. 

When I get near a lake, any lake, my whole being exhales and each muscle releases all accumulated tension. The waves greet the shore with a display of sound and reflected light that changes by the moment. The sky meets water like a friend and opens up to reveal it’s beauty, whether it be breathtaking sunsets or enigmatic cloud formations or pinpricks of star shine on a blanket of blackness. Each season displays it’s own shade of blue in sky and water. Each day has it’s own mood ranging from introspective stillness to raging froth. And when I slide into the water, it envelops me like a womb, and I am home. 

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Endings 

So it’s the end of the school year. Another year done. Finished, complete. That means my baby is getting older!(sobbing voice, sniffle). But I’m so proud of her for all she has accomplished this year.

I’m such a rookie mom, but I hope I’m starting to get a few things figured out. Having my oldest start school was like entering a whole new world. I have had little to zero contact with the world of formal education since my own graduation from high school. Not only has it been a long time, but times have changed, and the style of education has changed too. I’ve changed. Now I’m approaching it from the perspective of a mom not a student. School years seem to go by quickly and slowly all at once. One school year ends. The next one will start up before 2017 gives way to 2018. My newfound mom perspective makes the time seem to fly.

I’ve been thinking about how deeply children feel the changes involved in their school career. They say goodbye to a beloved teacher, they move on to a new classroom, often with a new group of students. Some switch to a new school. Everything starts again. It’s true, they have the experience of past years, but essentially it’s a new start. It’s almost like changing your entire family every year. There’s a new mother or father figure, new siblings. If the child is moving into upper grades, there could be a complete structure change, from one classroom most of the day to different ones per subject.

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I can see the positives of these changes. If there’s a bad mix of personalities in a class, well next year there will be a new group. Also, the teaching style has to change with the development of the children. But the emotional aspect of it all took me by surprise. Imagine the emotions you would feel if you literally had to change parents and siblings. The time it takes to build trust again. To understand your new family and your place in it. To mourn the absence of your old family. That all seems to happen on a mini scale. The summer break softens it a little. It gives an emotional respite, some breathing room to regroup.

As for myself, I look forward to the summer, to having my girl with me all day every day. To being the main adult in her life again. To not having to share her with perfect strangers most of the day. On the other hand, when the new school year starts, we all enjoy having the added structure to our days, accomplishing something that is measurable in lesson plans and report cards.

My conclusion so far has been that the benefits of change have outweighed the drawbacks. Sure it can be tough in the moment. But we also want our little ones to learn how to be resilient, adaptable. And each teacher leaves his or her stamp on the children’s little minds. You never know which one will be the one to unlock your child’s hidden potential or help them spark a lifelong passion.

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I overheard the sweetest goodbye speech by our K-3 gradeschool’s art teacher to her third graders. She reminded them that everyone’s an artist. She said even if they don’t know it yet, each one of them has a talent they can enjoy and share with the world.

Each school year is a milestone. Maybe it seems more so to me now than it did when I was in school. In my mom perspective it marks the calendar with a date that symbolizes the physical and mental growth my child experiences with each passing year. A stamp that marks off the passage of time.

That one day, The Last Day of School, embodies all the achievements and growth, all the challenges met and overcome, all of the inches and shoe sizes gained, all the baby teeth lost.

Another school year gone, never to return. Did she learn what she needed? Did she enjoy the process? Did she make friends? Was she a good friend? Did she stand up for herself and for what she believes in? I hope and pray the answer is yes. Because what comes to pass in these formative years will leave it’s indelible mark on her mind and personality.