Every teacher I know be a little like…

Leaving for work on the third Friday of the school year, I noticed my strawberry plants.

No, wait–that’s not quite right. I’d noticed them plenty of mornings before. They are directly in my line of sight when I walk out my back door to the garage. I’d noticed them drooping (and then browning and then shriveling) every morning, and every morning for at least two weeks I’d thought, I really need to water those when I come home tonight.

And then I wouldn’t. They weren’t in my line of sight when I came home, and even if I did remember them I was too tired/busy/late to do anything about it. (Or so I told myself.)

See, I had them hanging from the roof of my shed, which means that even though we had plenty of rain last week (thank you, weather gods), the poor strawberry basket didn’t get any because it was under the roof overhang. And the thought of dragging out the hose and giving it a drink of water–something I love doing in July–felt overwhelming in September. (See: tired, busy, late.)

I kept telling myself every morning that tonight, this night, I would water the poor thing. But I never did. And then, the third Friday of the school year I made myself go up close and really look at it to see if it could even be saved and then I beat myself up a little bit for letting it get so bad and then I wondered why I’m so lazy and can’t just do a better job of taking care of business.

Suddenly, lightening struck.

Not really, but out of nowhere I realized: I could just take the basket off the hook and put it on the pavement that doesn’t have any roof overhang covering it and the rain would water it.

No, it wouldn’t look as nice sitting on the pavement as it did hanging off the cute little shed roof. But half-dead wasn’t looking so nice, either. Wouldn’t it be better for the plant to be healthy in a less-optimal location than dead in a prime one?

For me, September has been multiple migraines, two rounds of antibiotics, 12+ hour work days, one sick day, fast food lunches, and lots of driving from school to school to school. (Last Thursday I never made it to my desk.) On the third Friday of the school year I finally paid attention to the strawberry basket, and looking at those dried up leaves and shriveled berries that could have been lush and plump–and that I might have eaten!–if only I’d stopped long enough to realize there was another way, I understood that, of course (of course!) this basket was a metaphor for every educator I know living through the month of September. (And most of the rest of them, too–but especially September, second only to May–not April–as the cruelest month.)

To suggest that all we need to do is somehow move our metaphoric basket to a place where we can get a little rain is not to ignore or dismiss or diminish the systemic and structural and resource issues that plague education and leave so many of us only half-alive by the end of the third week of the school year. But still, I’ve been wondering if there are things I might do to keep myself healthy that are as simple as moving my strawberry basket to a place where I don’t have to water it. And I’ve been reminded that we can’t just ignore our basic needs day after day after day because we’re too tired/busy/late to tend to them. Unless, you know, we want to end up like this:

Which doesn’t serve anyone. So, if you haven’t already–go water yourself this weekend! (Yeah, I know that sounds a little inappropriate. Or maybe I think that just because I’m surrounded many days by humans who love fart jokes. Whatever. Go take care of yourself!)

9 thoughts on “Every teacher I know be a little like…

  1. Kari says:

    Watering yourself…this is so good although the middle school boy in me is giggling.

    I’m sorry this month has been hard. I got in two migraine free months before getting two back to back ones this weekend. Sending you Aleve and a hug. ❤️

    • Rita says:

      Ah, if only Aleve would make it go away. Gotta have the hard stuff (prescription) to have any effect–which kinda sucks because sometimes I have to sort of hoard/ration it. But not this last month, so that’s a positive. Sorry you had a whole weekend full. That sucks, too. Hugging you back.

  2. TD says:

    The metaphor of your strawberry basket really worked for this post. I actually could feel it. You has me sitting right there on your porch suffering of thirst with that poor dependent little plant. Your creative writing often amazes me.

    Definitely take timeout to rest and get well soon, Rita.

      • TD says:

        The plant represented how you were feeling. Depleted. In need of self nourishment and self care. And then, giving yourself permission to accept that time and allowable space for you – your self care. (I got the humor, too.)(And I got your message about school systems, too.) Well written!

        My empathy was for you, Rita.

  3. Kate says:

    I hope you’re feeling better and those antibiotics have done their job. In some ways, I’m glad you found a simple solution to your poor strawberry problem. In another, it makes me sad that you’re so burnt out. Sometimes finding simple solutions is wonderful. Sometimes it sucks to be so busy that we need them. (I say this sprawled out on a couch after finally succumbing to the cold that claimed both my children.)

    • Rita says:

      Well, I guess I’m not going to give up my day job and go into light humor writing–which was kind of what I was aiming for. I’m actually doing pretty well. (Maybe I have a low bar?) There’s been a lot of work, but it feels like good work, so it’s not killing my soul (as it definitely has at times). I’m hoping the antibiotics have worked, too, but I kind of suspect that they haven’t entirely killed the thing. It was a bummer to have to do a second round. Sorry you’ve got the cold bug. There has been A LOT of that going around in my circles. The kids all go to school and yuck on each other. I remember being so sick all the time my first three years of teaching, and then I was almost like a goddess of immunity or something. I don’t usually get that kind of sick even now, out of the classroom for 10 years. Knocking on wood…

  4. Marian says:

    Sorry to be late to this, Rita. And I’m sorry to hear you’ve been so unwell. I hope by now you’re on the road to recovery.

    This — “Wouldn’t it be better for the plant to be healthy in a less-optimal location than dead in a prime one?” — hit me as a wonderful metaphor for life. I think the idea of optimization (aka perfectionism?) has been pushed on us in nearly every facet of our lives, and it’s making a lot of us (and our planet) incredibly unhealthy. We get told on a daily/hourly basis — via ads and social media — that perfection is possible, that if only we work hard enough we can find the perfect career and be in the perfect relationship and have the perfect home (and grow the perfect strawberries!). But we’re never told about the costs of striving for all those perfect /optimal things. Guilt (I think) is one of these costs: Damn, I killed another plant. What a waste of money. And a waste of a plastic pot. Why can’t I get my act together?

    (I’m not a teacher, but I kill plants too. (Especially plants of the outdoor variety; I walk past them and think “I’ll water you later” and then NEVER DO in the exact way that you describe here.) My porch is bare, and I’m ok with that 🙂 .)

    • Rita says:

      Hi Marian,
      It’s never too late for me to hear from you–somehow I missed your response until just now. It makes me feel better to know you’re a plant killer, too. And I laughed at your comment about the plastic pot. I hate the plastic pots! Last year I saved some, thinking I would buy starts and plant them in the previous year’s plastic pots, but then I forgot I had them. Now I have more. Maybe next year…but as you say, we’re never going to be perfect, are we? Thanks for giving me permission not to be. 🙂

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