Shifting

It is Friday, it is early, and it has rained most of the night. The clouds are pale gray and silver-edged where the sun shyly peeks through. We lace up our sneakers, I push ‘go’ on the coffee maker, and Mark and I head out for our morning walk.

We walk in cool fresh breezes; we see a few other morning walkers; we make a brisk, long circuit; then we head home.

After breakfast—that fresh, hot coffee; a bowl of the new batch of granola—I check grades one last time, add ‘last date of attendance’ for each student, and hit ‘send’ for three classes. I compose a farewell/your grades are posted/best of luck email and send it off.

I log out of the college website, and Mark and Jim get their shoes on. They are going to help me move some furniture, take down some pictures, hang a couple of certificates.

They are going to help me move into my new office.

***************************

By noon, we’re done. The TV brackets are removed from the wall that my desk, now angled, faces at a slant. A seascape, a painting by a locally renowned artist, covers the spaces where the brackets were hung. We’ve taken other pictures down and stacked them in the unused office at the end of the hall.

We have hung my fancy certificate from the Leadership Academy, and my ‘different drummer’ inspiration piece.

We have discovered that the couch, which is handsome but very hard to eject oneself from, is uncooperative: it does not readily fit through the door; it does not slide nicely down the hallway to be hidden away.

The couch will stay, temporarily tucked against the back wall. We’ll figure that out next week, Scarlett.

But couch or not, the office is ready for occupancy on Monday.

We put our masks back on. Susan comes down to look and gives the furniture arrangement a thumbs up. I have a list of things to buy and a list of things to bring on Monday.  We gather up tool bags, vacuum up a little dust, and head out to start the weekend.

*****************************

It is a catch-up weekend: I do the vacuuming that languished while I was grading final papers, mop the hard floors, shag down cobwebs entrenched in corners. We do a little shopping. Mark works on the basement window he’s replacing. I mow some grass.

Jim, who has gotten his math textbook for Fall semester, does 80 practice problems, just, he says, to get back into the math mind.

On Sunday, I take a pork roast out to thaw, and we head out, under skies that threaten to rumble and then clear for a good bit before reverting.

“Now, WHERE are we going?” asks Mark, and I direct him to the college campus where I have been teaching, thirty miles away. When we get there, we head out for a long rambling walk. I point out landmarks.

“I taught in THAT building,” I say.

“Huh,” says Mark.

“I remember,” says Jim, who would sometimes come to campus, set up in a lounge, and type the morning away while I taught. It was a break from the four walls of home while he waited on job search results. He liked the campus, where the people were friendly and welcoming.

And then COVID crept close, crawled in, entrenched, and neither of us returned to campus again.

Until today.

“I taught in THAT building…” I point.

“I sat with Ben Franklin,” says Mark, walking past a statue on a bench.

Mark and Ben shared a moment on an earlier trip to campus…

“It’s RAINING,” says Jim, and he’s right.

We dash back to the car, not too much damage done.

***********************************

The campus visit was my goodbye lap, my way of recognizing and honoring this transition. We go home then; I rub the pork with olive oil and crust it with herbs. We roast it, and then we eat it with a creamy pasta side dish and crisp, pretty salads. For dessert, I have tried a new recipe for frosted brownies; we eat them with scoops of chocolate chip ice cream.

It is a celebration meal.

The meal, and the trip to the college, are my attempts at a kind of rite of passage.

********************************************

We get up early on Monday; we get a good, stretching walk in through cool and dewy paths. I drink my coffee and eat my granola, and I do the word puzzles in the morning paper.

And then I go upstairs and wash and don dress pants and a scoop-necked, flowered top. I pull on soft black dress sandals and head downstairs again.

I pack up my black bag with my new work laptop and my folders full of notes and reminders. I peel a big carrot and chop it into sticks. I put that in a lidded glass container. I fill a tiny container with mixed nuts, too, and I put a water glass in my lunch bag. I fill a go-cup with the remaining coffee and make sure I have my phone and pens. I kiss Mark and hug Jim. I drive to the supermarket, put my mask on, and run in to buy a clutch of flowers. And I go, for the first time since March 5th, to work.

************************************

My new job is at a family foundation, where I am the program officer. Foundation funds were amassed through the hard work of the founders, a brilliant and foresighted couple; the funds grew because of their shrewd and savvy investing.

They lived wonderful long lives, those benefactors. He died this spring, two years after his wife passed; he was 98 and had, until his final brief illness, gone into the Foundation office at least twice a week. He tracked the stock market; he traded and bought and sold.

My friend Susan is their daughter, and now my boss; she is president and executive director of the foundation. Her siblings and their children and hers sit on the board of trustees.

Foundation funds are to support community growth, education, the arts and sciences. Part of my job is to get worthy leaders to request support for their worthy projects.

For a year or two after retirement I wrote grants, but I am on the other side of grant-writing now. I may do some teaching about the process, the organization, the scope. I will figure out ways to meet with people, socially distant but still personally, and discuss collaborations. It is, really, a kind of a dream job: helping people committed to making change in firm and positive ways.

I unlock the door of the Foundation office, take my bags to my office, and carry the flowers and two mason jars to the break room. I trim and snip and pull off foliage. I have two beautiful bouquets—purple and gold, red and blue, nestled in lush greens.

I put the mason jar bouquets on a crocheted doily on my new desk, plug in my laptop and pull out my to do list. By the time I meet with Susan at 11:00, the day and the week have taken shape.

This is a place to settle into.

***************************************

I am home a little after one, and the boyos are just eating lunch, so I sit down with them. Mark mentions that he was telling his boss about my new role.

“I told him I think you’re really going to like it, and that you’ve retired from teaching,” he says. He waits—buh dum BUMP—then adds, “For the 78th time.”

It is true, as Jim remarked the other day, that I have had a lot of jobs.

It is true, too, that I have often left teaching and then returned.

***************************************

I look at my college email, just in case, and find that the students can’t see their grades. I check my process, which looks correct, and then I send a message to the guru of the student management system.

That guru is always right on top of things. I find her reply early the next morning; there was a glitch. It’s been fixed.

And with that, the teaching is really done. I send a final note to the guru, telling her, truly, that she’s been a joy to work with.

****************************************

And the week rolls by with early walks and mornings in the office. On alternate days, another Pam, the office manager, is there; she shows me the files and makes me a list of past projects.

Terry, our brilliant tech support coach, comes in and guides us gently, never once rolling her eyes.

Susan and I have a Zoom meeting with brilliant, inspired people.

I learn the history of the Foundation and compile the trustees list and touch base with our web developer. Pam gives me fat files that document projects: a nature refuge for wounded warriors, a Habitat building, educational efforts.  

I figure out the phone system and record a new message. I crunch carrots sticks and read documents that help me begin to see that past and the vision for the future.

********************************************

Thursday comes, and the end of this particular work week. Mark has been to his office to pick things up; he reports that, because of this and because of that, he’ll be working from WORK on Monday. He’ll be back in the office for the first time since March, too.

Jim’s classes start, in person as far as he knows, on August 24th.

Suddenly, the fluid days are structured days, days with walls and bridges.

I think to check my college email, just in case there are any crises or calamities. There are not, but two special students have taken the time to write thank you notes, wishing me well on my new adventure. One of the students I know from a previous real time class. I know her face, and I have seen the faces of her precious children proudly displayed on the broad, flat screen of her phone.

I feel a pang knowing I will not teach her again; this is a young woman who has traveled a long way in life, from a country with another language, from a country where her religion was the predominant one, from a place where she knew the social cues and the shops on the corner and the holidays and  rhythms. She learns like fire burns: voracious, undaunted. Take me out of the classroom and throw me into an online universe? I will make it work, she vows.

It has been almost eerie to watch how much and how quickly she has mastered English writing; she has moved from writing determined, halting paragraphs to crafting seven-page papers with references in less than a year.

I do not know the other student’s face; we are virtual entities to each other. I know that she is a hard worker, someone who asks questions when she needs to understand better. I know that she is determined, too, and that her goals for herself and her family drive her hard.

Their emails remind me how satisfying teaching is, and what good, good work it can be.

*************************************

And yet.

The new job unfolds, its creative possibilities compounding. We talk about logos and I research mission and vision statements, and I open folders and see sincere notes of appreciation. We served X number of children this year, the writer says, and we could not have done that without your support.

“This is my inheritance,” Susan says of the Foundation. It is an amazing legacy; it is an exciting honor to be part of this team.

And now it is Friday afternoon, and there are no papers to grade. No student waits for me to open next week’s work in the virtual classroom; no one has written to say their assignment is delayed because of sick kids or to ask if they can rewrite the paper on which they received a grade they were disappointed in.

There is no planning to do for next week’s class; instead, the weekend looms, unstructured, with time for painting basement walls and mooching around the farmers’ market, masked and distancing. There will be time for walks, for mowing and mopping, and for settling into the reading chair with my current book.

I feel odd; I feel almost guilty not to be creating a rubric or writing feedback to a student paper. It will be good to submerge into this kind of free time.

My five-months’ wardrobe of t-shirts and capris gives way to slacks and tops; I think about coordinating necklaces and which purse to carry. I open the new bottle of perfume I’d placed behind the closet door in the bathroom.

The flow has quickened.

There are right times for passages; I will always, I think, be a teacher, but I am other things, too, and this job now in this place feels like just the right thing. I feel tangles un-knotting, and I say goodbye to the teaching life.

The 78th time, I think, is the charm, and I end the week with no regrets about leaving what was before and with excitement for what’s to come.

13 thoughts on “Shifting

  1. Kim Allen

    What a wonderful piece. Good luck on your new job! It sounds like a nice balance of enabling people to create worthwhile opportunities in the world, and having time to enjoy other aspects of your life. Congratulations. It would make sense you would continuously go back to your passion. Sounds like you have found a new one, and the course is true and sure towards a new kind of life with a different kind of purpose.

      1. Kim

        I am happy for you. And your office is lovely! Love the furniture and the touches. If I lived closer, I would run right over and problem solve that couch! I am doing it long distance . I just can’t help myself. . Consider the possibility that the couch does not come straight out. If it is shorter than the doorway, you lift it in its end, and angle the back part that sticks up out the door first, and the rest will slide out.

  2. It sounds like an interesting opportunity to have a broader impact and with so much autonomy for creating ideas. I hope there is enough interaction with people to keep you feeling connected as your life with a teacher certainly had that in spades. Ugh though – office clothes. Better you than me!

    1. bernieLynne, I can tell when absence makes the heart grow fonder; I’m actually enjoying IRONING office clothes in the morning. I don’t think that’s something I could have truly said at any other point in my life!

      I am hoping that we can come up with innovative connection ideas for building community in these COVID days…and that creative challenge has strong appeal. Thanks so much for your good wishes!

  3. Sue

    You’re a shining example of transitioning during abnormal times~sounds like a perfect ‘fit’ in some impressive new digs, Pam. Wish you much success.
    Appreciate that great shot of your hubs w/Benjamin, by the way~always been one of my fave historical figures…let’s hope he’s ‘safe!’ ;>}

    1. Sue, the campus has a series of statues on site (sitting on benches) called ‘The Great Contributors.’ I wholeheartedly support Ben Franklin as a member of that group! My students had to write proposals, though, and this spring they answered the question, “Who’s missing?” by proposing other important contributors who should be featured. (Many students proposed a statue of Martin Luther King, Jr., and others got very creative—a student who emigrated from Nigeria proposed a person the class did not know, and we learned about a great Nigerian statesman. They proposed heroes, entertainers,—even a podcaster! It was a fun exercise…)

      Thank you for your good wishes! This is an exciting move at a very good time.

  4. Perhaps in pre-Covid days your last day would have included a party with cake among fellow teachers and admin? Did you miss not having something of the sort when you left? Or was your walk around campus with your family a better farewell…more meaningful…done at your pace and including what was most important or memorable to you?

    1. I think the low-key walk was a really nice way to end that chapter…and I am getting together with the woman who was my coordinator next week in a socially distanced writers’ group format…so it all feels right. There’s an end; there’s a nice continued connection; and my new position is already offering some very interesting challenges. I am lucky, lucky, lucky, in this time—and at this time in my life–to have the options I have! Thank you!

  5. Pam, you have so many good friends wishing you well in your new job! Allow me to add my own wishes for you. May the new endeavor bring you great satisfaction and prosperity. May the people and the projects you inspire bring positive, lasting change to places and institutions that need it. Take good care!

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