“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” – Confucius
Last weekend the kids, Ken and I woke up very early for a Sunday morning and drove about 2 hours to Catoctin Mountain in Western Maryland for a day hike. I had purchased this kids pack for Charlie from REI and I wanted to see how the boys would do hiking with their packs and some weight. We are taking a backpacking trip soon and it has been awhile since we have taken them out onto the trail with us. After some confusion and a closed parking lot, we met up with Maria and set off to do the long loop near Cunningham Falls. We hiked for 8 miles, taking us 4 hours and our total elevation gain was 1,606 feet. We went clockwise on the loop so that the steepest part would be downhill at the end, but it still felt pretty slow for all the adults. It was a beautiful day in the 50s and between the sunshine and spring buds I realized this was the start to the Springtime Sunday Dreads for me and many students. As the weather warms up and summer approaches, fun Sundays outside make it harder to return to work on Mondays. The spirit animal for this trip was the hawk, reminding me of the quote from Clueless about a Monet painting. “From far away it’s ok, but up close it’s a big ol’ mess.”
It had been a few months since Maria and I had been able to spend much time together, so we spent most of the hike together, leading the way while Ken stayed behind the kids to make sure they didn’t wander off in the wrong direction, or simply stop, which they threatened a few times. Leaving the Visitors Center, we followed the Yellow Trail towards Cunningham Falls. As we climbed up towards Hog Rock, Maria and I caught up about teaching. A few years ago, Maria, another friend Mary and I were all at a professional development conference for foreign language teachers in our county. We all hit it off and laughed in the back of the classroom. At one point we were shushed by another teacher (who has since left the county) as if we were children. Last year Mary left teaching. After this year, Maria is changing counties. As I watch people come and go from this annual meeting, and female friendships are a challenge for me as it is, it’s hard to watch my friends move on. I leaned heavily on female friendships when I was separating and divorcing from my ex. A few of those relationships couldn’t sustain the emotional weight, others strengthened but most faded away naturally. I have been lamenting my lack of friends lately, but then again I’m not entirely willing to put energy into fostering new friendships. After a slow and unchallenging ascent we made it to Hog Rock, and took some photos of us jumping in front of the outlook. We had done this almost two years previously, and I realize that even with my friends leaving the county/profession, the friendship that I have with Maria, and other friends, won’t dissolve.
“The first step toward success is taken when you refuse to be a captive of the environment in which you first find yourself.” -Mark Caine
As we continued from the yellow trail to the pink/purple trail towards Thurmont Vista and Wolf Rock, Maria and I continued to talk about teaching and a cruel email a parent had sent her. The trail was filled with medium rocks, the type that stuck up just high enough to catch your foot. We worked our way over the rocks, under the budding trees. The forest floor was still very brown with dead leaves and not much green springing to life yet. Maria and I talked at length about how teaching is almost like being in a toxic relationship. On one hand, we will pour so much of ourselves into our lessons, we try to not only teach students content, but also be their role models, advocates, cheerleaders and disciplinarians. In return we often get angry parents, disengaged administration and indifferent students. I get paid just high enough that it would be impossible to start from the bottom in a new career. It reminds me of the book I read before I left my ex-husband – Too Good to Leave Too Bad to Stay. This is exactly what teaching feels like right now. So many of my relationships are evolving, and the one I have with teaching is rocky. In the week after the hike, I decided that the only reason to feel stuck is if I am not taking actionable steps. I completed a grant writing course, applied for another 5 jobs and kept reminding myself that a few years ago I put it out into the universe that I didn’t want to be married. I didn’t want to ever be in a “normal” relationship again where every day was almost identical to the last and I ended up finding someone who travels for work and loves adventure as much as I do. Even without our travels together, our day-to-day life is never the same with his travel and work schedule. The same can happen for what I find for work.
“If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.” – Jim Rohn
Wolf Rock was a great point of the hike. The kids and I climbed to the top, and I walked along the top of the boulder with them. It was just the three of us, and I was appreciative to have that moment alone with them. When I thought of this hike a few weeks ago I wasn’t sure if Maria would be available, but I absolutely knew I would be taking the kids. It was not my weekend with them, but I was able to get them. They are playing spring sports, which means practices and games on Saturdays. The time we have to hike together is limited, but it is so important to me to do this with them. Growing up my dad and I did Saturday Morning Chores every week, and it was this tradition and long conversations that helped me feel stable and safe. I strive to create this type of consistency for them, despite all the upheavals they have had. Shit, I need consistency and stability too. I have moments of panic when I am on my own with the kids, all of our diabetes, their sports schedules, my job, etc. and I think this is not at all what I would have designed for myself. I didn’t go to school to be a teacher, I got my certificate after I started my first teaching gig. I wanted to move back to New England 18 years ago when I finished college. And yet no matter how many times I get the “Once in a Lifetime” song by Talking Heads sensation, my kids are the only things that bring me back to the present. The bad “Well how did I get here?” dissolves into the “I am so lucky to be here.” A life without chaos is not a life worth living.
As we finished the hike, coming down the trail wasn’t terribly steep, and at one point the boys finally took the lead. We spotted a hawk, most likely a Red Shouldered Hawk. Ken, the kids and I then saw a few more driving home and then I kept seeing them last week. The morning after our hike I had a planned observation. I designed a lesson plan where I intentionally destroyed my classroom. Another group of French students and I moved the chairs into another room, wrote mean stuff about me on the board and threw papers around. The administrator knew this, but still looked a little shocked when she walked in. That morning my projector had broken and there were also 2 other people in there fixing that. Between having no chairs, the extra people in the room and having to improvise a lot on the spot, not being able to use the projector as I had planned, I was sweating through most of that lesson. I was fairly certain I was going to get a very negative review. The administrator came to my Friday with the report, and to my genuine surprise, she had nothing negative to say. She didn’t know what I had planned to do with the computer and projector. She saw the students engaged in the lesson, eager to make their alibis and conjugating verbs successfully in the past tense. A little perspective on your own life is important. If I am able to find a new job, there will be someone who will actually be excited to fill my role. There is someone who is excited to be dating my ex-husband. When I one day move, there will be someone who will be thrilled to move into my house. I have so much, sometimes I need to remember to first Google what the animals I have been seeing mean, like the hawk: “This animal has the power to provide support in gaining a higher level perspective on any issue or project you undertake. When the hawk appears in your life, it’s perhaps time to be less distracted by the details and focus on the higher perspective. Relying on the hawk power, you can see what’s ahead clearly and defy any obstacles that may be on your way. A specific way the hawk guidance works is to use a high level and yet clear and focused vision to guide your action.” (Source) So Cher from Clueless was channeling her inner hawk spirit animal. When we focus too much on the details in front of us, our life can feel messy, overwhelming, not where we belong, but in the grand scheme of things we are exactly where we are meant to be. Any path is the right path.