A Zen Little Unplanned Existential Experiment

This morning, I did not expect NOT to go to work.  I mean, it was a figuratively balmy 8 degrees at 6:00 when I awoke, and the temperature was only going to climb as the day progressed.  In no way would calling school be justified again.  The Polar Vortex was done ravaging us with wind chills in the -40s; it was time to get back to normality.

However, at 6:13, a friend texted me, “No school again ?!?”

I thought he was joking.  I had not received the call, and this friend of mine, he can be somewhat of a jokester.  However, I walked out of the bathroom, and wouldn’t you know it, the phone rang one-minute later.  Today, school was cancelled because the majority of the busses wouldn’t start, and they could not, of course, allow the little dumplings stand in the frigid air while the few busses that did work tried to manage all of the routes.

Day Three.

The first thing that went through my mind was a song I used to love in the 90’s.   My mind could hear the riff of the guitar as the words played in my mind:

For three strange days
I had no obligations
My mind was a blur
I did not know what to do.
And then I lost myself

I, for the life of me could not remember anymore of the song.  I could not even remember who sang it.  Thank God for Google and the world-wide web.  I vaguely remembered the band School of Fish and when I looked up the lyrics, I found that they were actually really depressing.

For me, these have been three strange days, but unlike the lead singer, I have not lost my motivation.  On the contrary, I have relished in the gift of freedom that snow days bestow.

A gift, you scoff!  What about all the other days off?

Don’t you think, dear reader, I know you are dubious of the complexities of my job.  You see it as a cake walk: three days at Thanksgiving, two weeks at Christmas, Spring Break, and then nine weeks in the summer!  But, what you do not understand is the paradox of teaching: we work our asses off for 187 days a year because we need for the students to excel and be better at whatever subjects we teach, and in order to do that, we need days off to regroup, reevaluate lessons, and recharge our batteries.

Everyone feels burnout, you say.  Well, I do not disagree, but please, try to be a teacher for even a year, and you might think a little less critically of our chosen calling.

Now, I do not mean to put you on the defensive or make you angry.  I love my job and I am grateful for the time off that school districts give students and teachers to restore their enthusiasm and yearning to learn.  Likewise, I was grateful for our winter break.  I crossed many items off of my list.  I shopped, cooked, entertained, visited, cleaned, worked out, graded some papers (not as many as I should have, I will admit), and relaxed with my family.  It was the perfect break.

Oh, but then the Polar Vortex hit, and three magical free days were conjured in the universe.  Free Days.  I did not plan on these days.  I did not have a schedule of chores that needed to be accomplished.  I did not have any set list of items that needed attention because these days were not planned, and thus, they were a gift.

For three strange days I had no obligations….

With no obligation comes the ability to just exist.  I kind of zenned out in my own little existential experiment.  I realized that nothing had to be done, so I decided what should be done was anything that I wanted to get done.  Do you understand the enormity of this gift for a 44 year-old, full-time working mother of three?

So what did I do?

  • I read The Fault in Our Stars cover-to-cover.  I would recommend it because it is incredibly well written, but blubbering for forty or more pages makes it a hard book to recommend.  Okay, screw it.   I cried but I also laughed. You should read it!  It’s that good!
  • I worked out twice!  I never find time to workout during the week, or is it that I find a million other things to do besides working out during the week?  Well, whichever way, the endorphins made me feel strong.
  • I played countless games of Life with the girls.  I won more than once.  I always pick the college track, and I think they are starting to realize that long-term earnings increase exponentially with a college education.
  • I slept.  One can NEVER sleep enough, in my opinion.
  • I cooked delicious meals.
  • I blogged.

It was a glorious, unencumbered three days, and it was almost better than any planned vacation.

If only I could give the gift to each of you readers so you can understand how having three strange days can seem like the perfect motivation to get done some of the things you never seem to find time to do.



Day 204: Time Isn’t Holding Us; Time Isn’t After Us

And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask  yourself
Where does that highway go to?
And you may ask yourself
Am  I right?…Am I wrong?
And you may say to yourself
My  God!…What have I done?!
— Talking Heads

I think I have always been an existentialist at heart.  At eleven years old, in 1981, watching David Byrne move through “the water” of the video Once in a Lifetime meant something to me.  I already understood that experiencing life meant questioning it, analyzing it, feeling it, and enjoying it.

Lately, this song has been running through my head often.  Does anyone else think how did I get here?  I know I went to school and worked hard and fell in love and had babies and started a career, but what is this number that is associated with me?  What is this 42?  42 at 22 sounded so old; it sounded like all of those people who were out of fashion and out of the know.  Yet, at 42, I do not see myself this way.  I think I am kind of hip and with it, and inevitably every year in October when I let the cat out of the bag and tell my students how old I am, they are shocked.

“Really?” This nice young man said last year in Brit Lit.  “I would have put you at like 30.”

Thirty– at thirty, I had my first baby.  At thirty, I felt like a baby.  At thirty, I did not know where I would be at 42.  I know I did not expect to be here, but here is where my highway led to.  I laugh at what I thought life would be.  I laugh that I planned for something that never came to fruition.  I laugh that I thought I wanted things I do not have and yet, I am happy.  I am happy because it’s the people in my life that make me happy, not the things.  The people with whom I associate are true and kind and care and laugh and love.  The things are just things.

Sometimes, when I am standing in the kitchen of the house that I pay the mortgage on and realize it is my kitchen in my house, I am overwhelmed.  Sometimes, when I am standing in the kitchen of the house I pay the mortgage on and I am washing the dishes I love that reflect my personality, a little person walks into the room and says, “Mommy” — I look at the face of one of my girls, the face that is my face and not my face, the face of a person who is an extension of me, but not me and I am stupefied.  I own a home.  I am a mom.  These are my children.  They depend on me.  They look to me for answers, for support, for knowledge, for guidance.

I know that I do not have answers; well, at least not all the answers.  I can say “no” to a third cookie and I can explain the quadratic equation, but I do not know where life will lead.  I did not expect life to lead to where it is, and I do not know where it will go, where it will end up.  Nonetheless, within my experiences, I have found that the easiest way to happiness is to be happy.  I guess when the girls start asking the really important questions– what’s-the-meaning-of-life type questions, I will tell them this:

Cut the bullshit.  Be kind.  Offer others help.  Don’t take anyone, including yourself, too seriously.  Learn from your mistakes.  Give your best effort in everything you do (and that includes cleaning your room).  Every day is a gift from God.

Same as it ever was— happiness comes from within.