One of the things I’m loving about teaching is that it takes every fiber of your being to do it well. It takes your creativity, your intellect, and your physical input. There’s no way to half-ass it and have any worthwhile outcome. One of the things I love about the place where I teach came as a bit of a surprise to me. During our orientation, the different presenters emphasized the importance of self-care for teachers and caregivers at our school.
All of the students at our residential come to us because of an emotional disturbance due to some sort of complex trauma.. Being affective with the students means being present, and, often, it means hearing stories that, when you get home, bring you to tears. it means having kids yell at you as they vent their frustrations with life and remembering not to take it personally. It means thinking about the people who have done these kids harm and trying not to become hard because becoming hard means you can’t be there for those kids.
I haven’t gone to an hour of the school organized group self-care sessions, but, about a month ago, not knowing why exactly except to save money on health insurance, I decided to start going to a gym. I hit the big 5O back in April and knew that keeping bone density up means doing some resistance training, but the desire to work out was something else. It wasn’t until this weekend that I realized what it was.
I’d behave myself all week, hitting the gym for each of my routines every single day before going home. Sometimes that means getting home a bit late, especially on the days when we have professional development after classes. It also means feeling a little guilty that, in focusing on self care each day, I’m not doing right by one of the two kids who is the most important in my life. I get home feeling more relaxed, but I’m spending less time with him to do so.
This weekend my husband, Thing2 and I have been stacking wood. we have a pretty good system of me carrying logs from the wood pile to a wheelbarrow where Thing2 hands them off to the Big Guy for stacking the way he likes. Ferrying logs, two and four at a time, is it pretty good workout. normally I’d be pretty tired and ready to quit after 15 or 20 minutes. Yesterday and today, however, I was able to keep it going until the boys are ready to quit, and I was happy not just for being able to keep up but because it was another hour each day that the three of us had to talk and joke and sing along to the Beatles albums that were playing as we stacked.
When we finished up for the day a little while ago, we looked at the work we’ve done and then at each other and said to each other, “We done good.“
and I realized that self-care isn’t just about being able to help the kids at school every day, it’s about making sure that when I’m home with my kid, I am really present.
I’m taking a step back from oil painting in October to participate in Inktober. It’s a good time to do some drawing, and, anyway, my studio is about to be torn apart as I claim a larger space.
Today’s prompt is “ring.”
I’m sitting in one part of a ring — on the couch with the Big Guy as I draw. I’m trying to get Thing2 to do Inktober with me, but he’s over at the piano teaching himself the Beatles song book and making our eyes sweat.
It’s almost Thing2’s 13th birthday, and I’ve been thinking about the first few minutes after his birth. I’ve been remembering that perfect round baby head and those early days when nothing seems as pure as the love that we felt for them.
Now all these years later, we know his triumphs and follies, and the love is anything but pure. It’s stronger and better because we know that each day will reveal some facet that makes it stronger still.
We are shy one kid. He’s away at college, and it’s been an adjustment. As broken bars of “Imagine” drift over from the piano, however, I keep thinking about how full our little family circle, with its faultlines and reinforcements, still is.
I sat with a student today who is trying to navigate from adolescence to adulthood with only support from the state. She has little help from the adults who brought her into the world, but her courage and determination to help people she still loves is nothing short of heroic. I know she should have enjoyed — that they all should enjoy — that same kind of parental love we take for granted, and I know the only thing I can do is support her and show her that I expect great things from her during our last few months together.
But, now, sitting on the couch as the first bars of “Let It Be” begin to echo, I think about the other things I can do, and I make a point to never take our small circle for granted.
I had about two hours before we were heading to the movie, so I went looking for a place to paint. I’ve done this spot at the Wilcox Dairy ice cream stand before, but I sold the painting and wanted a bigger one. The new one isn’t done yet, but I have still got something good out of the afternoon.
I got some water from the ice cream stand and chatted with the woman who is running it now. Fifteen years ago a friend of ours ran it, Planting a beautiful herb garden nearby so customers could sit and enjoy the flowers as they eat their Sundays. Her son and my son were friends when they toddlers. Now the son of the new ice cream lady is helping mind the ice cream stand.
He noticed me setting up my easel and asked his mom if he could come over to watch. I had the sky started and had blocked in the outlines by the time my new companion arrived.
We chatted about how to paint and where to get paint. He said he wished he could pay for lessons. I reminded him that once he started painting, someday he would show somebody else the ropes. Then my young “apprentice” pointed out a crate in front of the ice cream stand that belonged to him. He asked if I would put it in the painting, and I agreed.
I hadn’t got that far by the time it was time to go to the movie,but I’m coming back to it now. When it’s done I think I’ll take my new pal a copy.
Looking at paintings is like touching an artist’s soul – even if the artist lived 400 years ago. Most of my art is about finding a constructive outlet for anger or depression and not much of a soul to touch, but every once in a while I think, it would be great to create a painting or piece of literature that people are still enjoying in 400 years (even 30 would be awesome).
I think the drive to create legacy lives in most people. It drives a lot of parenting decisions, it creates careers. Some people leave behind buildings or stadiums. Others leave behind Love Canal. Most of us leave something in between. But, as I’ve been tossing out the things in my life that don’t ‘spark joy’ (my diet, my treadmill, my bills), I also think about the things I’m leaving my kids.
In 40 or 50 years Thing1 and Thing2 will still have to do a hefty excavation job (I don’t expect to develop a commitment to cleaning at this stage of my life), but as I try to make sure my unwanted items find new homes somewhere besides the landfill, I’ve started thinking about the things I acquire or keep and about the burdens I’ll leave behind.
Once you go down that road, the first lie you tell ourself is that you won’t ever buy anything brand new (except food or a new pack of underwear every once in a while). If you’re plus-sized like me, that’s not always an option (most second hand shops seem to stock lots of pre-shrunk size 8s), but you can make things last or (for the truly delusional) diet.
Dieting is tough, but the real tough stuff is the things I create.
My art is my outlet. Art, for me, is process and processing.
Art is also a pile of plastic paint tubes. It’s books. It’s covered canvases that may be recycled or hang on a wall or someday end up in the miscellaneous pile at a thrift store with the rest of the aging ‘masterpieces’ that served as someone else’s outlet. It’s something I’ve been considering more carefully as I think about the world I want to leave my kids.
Thing2 is a natural packrat and a sentimentalist to boot, so I know some of my unwanted art will end up on his walls someday, but I do worry about the plastic tubes and the chemicals. I think about the resources used to produce a book that will end up in the library tag sale room and wonder if my creating is taking something more important from Thing1 and Thing2’s futures.
Ultimately, I think it will come down, not to not creating, but rather being mindful about creation. And, mindfulness is what art is really all about.
Working weekends torpedoes your social life, and, when you work at home with most of your work friends in different cities or states your social opportunities are limited to begin with. I compound those factors with a relatively introverted personality — I had almost perfected the shut-in lifestyle before I decided to go back to school to keep my brain from atrophying. So when plans go awry, as they did this weekend, you really feel it. Feelings get spackled over and patched up, but I find what really puts a new coat of paint on the weekend is getting a glimpse of the people and things that make life – shut-in or out-and-aloud — worthwhile.
Thing2, a study in social-butterflying, had his Saturday calendar filled before I knew that someone’s kid had been dropped off. He and his bestie headed out to re-enact their favorite Star Wars battles in the muddy, snow speckled yard. It’s a warmer day – in the fifties, and the boys disappeared into the woods for awhile, reappearing to prove that they were still breathing but dirty, only when I rang the school bell that hangs outside our front door. Katy-the-Wonder-Dog waited for them to tire out and, when they took a break, sitting down on the stoop on the deck, she went over to them to add a few kisses to her social calendar.
I stopped working long enough to appreciate how sometimes just watching that part of the world go by is as satisfying as any day out.