When first days and last days collide: back to school

Summer is over and no matter how hard I try to conjure up corn on the cob, swimming with my littles, picking berries, lazy post-dinner walks, or getting some sun, those last days are fading.

Every last bit of everything has become like a sacred ritual around my house. As summer wound down, we remarked on the last backyard dinner al fresco, the last trip to the park before school starts, the last swim at the pool. We’re making each little moment so precious that we’re almost unable to enjoy them for risk of spoiling their memory, so obsessed and consumed with the end of things and the start of things.

These last days beget first days. We have been counting down the days until the next big milestone: the start of preschool for the little sister, the first day of kindergarten for the big sister, the first day of classes for me, first first first. Cherishing our every move has become a full-time job around here.

We have lost sight of the in-between moments, though. And for me, I am stuck in-between because some of this year’s firsts might also be lasts, and it is too difficult to discern the starting and ending points. So I don’t.

My firsts and lasts are on a collision course headed for the start of classes at my institution. Most of my life has run on the academic calendar–I have been going “back to school” for all save two of my last thirty years as a student, graduate student, and now professor. I always liked school but fell further in love with school over a long stretch of time. Because I did well enough and stayed out of trouble in high school, I went to college and then graduate school, investing time first in myself and eventually in my ability to think and reason. In many ways, school has become both part of what I do and who I am.

And even with thirty odd first days of school and even though I have had plenty of time to think about going back to school this school year, as the day crept closer and closer, my mind could not reconcile the confusion I feel about this coming year. I remain in a professional holding pattern because my contract is winding down and I am planning for what I’ll do after this academic year. My first day of teaching might be my last day of teaching–for now anyway. I don’t mean in the sense that I won’t be a teacher anymore, but I won’t be a teacher like this.

Instead of a first day, or a last day, I am stuck in-between.

Though I would like to think that we would hold up the in-between moments, make them sacred, I am certain that I won’t. I keep asking myself, if I knew this day or this year was really the last teaching I’ll do for a while, would I change what I do or how I do it?

Teaching is what I do, and it is also part of who I am, but teaching isn’t the only thing I can or should do, either. But being in-between means facing the fact that I might be leaving academia, giving up this kind of teaching, and beginning to disentangle a professional and personal identity that have grown (more like fused) together. Tougher still is that disentangling them feels like surgery without anesthesia–it feels arresting and frustrating and a little painful when it should really feel uncomfortable.

Being in-between feels a little achy.

Leaving a job is difficult because transition is difficult. I am thankful that I have time to negotiate this next transition. Once you make a transition, theoretically life changes because for better or worse, you also change. Last days pass awkwardly into first days, and suddenly you’re in-between again.

But it’s okay because just when we thought summer had ended, a wave of humid heat swallowed our town up yesterday, reminding us of the steamy, messiness of in-between moments like these. On this second anniversary of Rogue Cheerios, I have to return to the advice I got before I started writing: I just don’t know what it’s going to be yet. So, I have no choice but to settle in. 

About rglw

Sociologist mom writes for work and for pleasure.
This entry was posted in academia, blogging, everyday life, higher education, lessons learned, personal, schools, summer, teaching, what professors do, work, writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to When first days and last days collide: back to school

  1. Pingback: A long, awesome, exhausting week of firsts (and lasts) | rogue cheerios

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