I looked at myself for the mirror meditation dressed for work--my hair tied back securely at the nape of my neck...my dress shapeless, floral, dark...clean make-up, briefcase on the desk just beyond my left shoulder. In my eyes, first avoidance--then submission. Yes, this is my face--masquerading as a professor.
An hour later, I'd cross a busy city street--my arms bowed beneath heavy papers--buses streaming their polluted silver clouds. In three inch heels--dodging potholes--my badge around my neck drawing attention from the students lounging all over the steps in filtered sunlight. Before I made it inside, a small pale-faced girl asked me how to get to the SouthEast building and I smiled, pointed behind her, and replied, "You're already there."
Kind of how I feel watching myself watch my reflection...there--printed into my skin--where I come from. Where I'm going--where I already am, now, writing this.
I stood my ground in the front of the classroom, awash as it was with day-students--younger than the night-owls I've grown used to over many semesters before. I know their habits and ways--these full-timers are a whole new species. Same classroom, whole new landscape.
Another instructor nodded as we passed one another in the stairwell.
"How are your children?" she called out in her thick London-accent and I marveled at the echo of her voice and asked her the same. Even on campus--miles away from their sweaty-fisted reaches, people remember I am a mother. I am identified in this way by the other mothers who are away from their children for however long to teach language, reading, and writing to a roomful of 18-23 year olds who squirm in their seats and stare blankly at the handouts we give them.
I think of Petunia's ravenous book consumption, of pre-literate Boy-o's hours lost in the glossy tomes on castles and knights he adores, and of Rosie's creative interpretations of her old favorite stories. My students write down, I hate reading and feel it is pointless in today's society...with two of the words misspelled. My high school teacher said I couldn't get books, so now I read People Magazine--does it count? Or, Don't know...whatever...or, SPACE LEFT BLANK.
The start of every semester is the same process of breaking through the tough veneer of these students who have been told they were inadequate in some way from day one. It is exhausting--their attitudes are fierce--they don't even look me in the eye. Tension hangs in the room, "I'm majoring in business--why do I have to be here?" Every semester, without fail...my "hardest" student comes up to me at the last minute of the last class and grabs my arm,
"You are the first teacher who believed in me...thank you, Ms. S, for everything," and I smile and am calmly grateful--then cry in the car the whole way home. This is what brings me back...in spite of the endless paperwork--the stress--the occasional drama.
MONDAY--I picked the kids up from my spunky sister's...came home and changed into jeans and a blue t-shirt. We ate dinner and then M. and I took two of them (Petunia and her Mom-Mom were blissfully lost in the back-to-school shopping maze) to the nearby park. We hiked through the trees and breathed in the freshly baled hay mixed with the last traces of honeysuckle and summer. I took a picture of myself in the soybean field and looked at it for a long time before bed. This is the self I know...even with my eyes closed.