A Way to Mark Time

Time is one of the things over which we have no control. It cannot be stopped or manipulated and it flows in only one direction — at least as far as we know. It can, however, be sanctified.”

Alan Jones

It is December 5th, the second Sunday of Advent, and the first December I have not been a teacher. I woke up early to shower and go somewhere the other day, and as the water rushed over me, I thought I do not miss this. There is nothing to be mourned from 5:30AM wake-ups, hustling lunches, diapers, and book bags out the door for a 7:30AM start to my work day. Those are not the things I miss about teaching.

I feed Anneliese with one hand as I type this with the other. Her entrance into our lives back in April was more and less disruptive than Evangeline’s, more and less life-changing for me, more and less miraculous. As with most things, I try to assess as I go so that I can experience the moment in real time, rather than in some sort of nostalgic reflection: having a second baby doesn’t seem to be as emotionally or mentally difficult as having a first baby; I am still the “new me” of motherhood, so there is no big identity shift; logistics are a nightmare as they never were with only one child; there is no more playing around (there were times with one baby that I felt like we just had a little buddy we brought along to everything we did — now we have two little buddies, but that’s one buddy each, and not everyone loves an incessantly-talking-toddler-and-incessantly-grunting/screaming-baby combo).

[Anneliese is done eating. I give her a huge slinky to toss around on the top of her high chair. I think I hear Evangeline stirring upstairs. Type, frantically.]

When September rolled around, I felt the itches of a new school year. I am 32 years old, and this was the first September (minus one outlying year after college) that I have not begun a new academic year since I was three years old. Many teachers have similar stats to their life resumes, but when I realized that was 28 years of fresh starts and new notebooks and new syllabi, I was shocked.

[I asked a former teacher how many years it would take before I stopped measuring time in school years. She smiled sweetly and said, “Probably never.”]

I wondered how I would feel after I left teaching, who I would feel like. “Once a teacher, always a teacher,” is both terrifying and lovely — more than once, I have found myself on the cusp of correcting a child I had no business correcting, laying out expectations in too-obvious a format for regular adult communication. And of course I could wax poetic about the daily instruction and guidance I give my daughters etc. etc., but that feels like trying to shape my days into something they aren’t. I’m “teaching,” sure, but it is so much more personally rewarding longterm than classroom teaching, and so much less rewarding on the daily level. They are similar, but not the same.

On this second Sunday of Advent, I can’t help but think how the Church calendar has influenced my spiritual walk and my writing. Both Advent and Lent create this mysterious space that opens me up to inspiration. This year, my inspiration is taking the form of moments of candle-lighting, hat-knitting, and a slow movement toward rest. Again, a year spent with the Sacred Ordinary journal, and the short daily reflections coupled with more extensive searching in the weekly Examine are allowing me to tap into that part of me that used to commune with God in the quiet, but now communes with Him in the bustle and loud of a home taken up with others.

Time is always on my mind. As a mystery and as a bringer of death. As an agent for healing and as a vehicle for change. How to mark it? Should I mark it? What would happen if I didn’t?

September used to mark the beginning of a new academic year. September of 2021 flowed from August and into October in a seamless wave of walks, diapers, coffee dates, middle-of-the-night wakings, and endless dishes and laundry.

December used to mark the beginning of Advent. December of 2021 still marks the beginning of Advent. When I cracked open my blue Sacred Ordinary and looked at the wheel of the Church calendar, I wondered at the consistency, at the shared experience across time. We will light the second candle of Advent today in our living room and across the globe. I’ll read the Scripture reading, and Evangeline will want to light all the candles at once because who wouldn’t?

I may not be teaching, but it is still Advent. Christ is still coming. Christ has still come.

A Poem for Election Day

It’s not the first time I’ve voted
but it is the first time
it has felt like a funeral — faces
grim, strained
looking down at phones
as the long line winds around the corner
(corners) and the cold November wind
whips dead leaves whirling
down the sidewalk.

Yet, this isn’t the saddest thing
about this day. That, instead,
is the empty preschool playground
I stand beside; the sun-bleached
picnic table picnic-less since March,
the fence leaning, the swing-set empty,
the imagined children’s voices.

Accidentally Curated

My journal is falling apart. Partly from natural causes (it’s hardcover, and those seem to get hit harder by life), but partly from unnatural causes (Evangeline discovered she can slip her little finger under the spine and I think she’s addicted to the glorious feeling of destruction). I found this particular journal at the bookshop downtown. It’s much larger than I usually use, but I loved that it didn’t have lines. I’d gotten it in my head I could be more creative without lines, that somehow I would begin to channel my artist friends and write in circles, sideways, and doodle in beautiful colors. This of course never happened. All the blank space just invited me to write in various sizes and lean my lines at slants and cause general visual mayhem. It does not look artistic.

My very first journal opens with an entry about learning to ride my bike. I am five years old. I remember the day vividly: my father holding on to the back of the bike, giving instructions, my extreme frustration. Hardly any of this is in the entry, except for a sentence about my dad helping me learn. The other thing that isn’t there?

The fact that my little brother, a mere three-year-old, zoomed past me as I struggled to keep my balance.

He learned how to ride a bike the same day I did. I remember watching him zip along the sidewalk at daring angles, even while I could barely muster the courage to go down the slight hill. My fear of risk showed early, but it didn’t show up in my journal.

I’ve been thinking about the curated life a lot lately. Stay-at-home did many things to me — many things for me — and one of those things is that it made me more attached to my phone, to the internet, and to the world. I started most weekday mornings with NPR while I made my coffee and Evangeline’s breakfast, I moved to Facebook and Instagram when I wasn’t teaching or in a zoom meeting, and I listened to podcasts about the ills of our nation, our world.

Social media grew into something I had never experienced before. Suddenly, what we posted was barometer of our politics and our hearts. What we did not post was a measure of the same. I would hover over a post, wondering if I should like it.

What does it say about me if I like this?

Who will feel supported?

Who will feel ignored?

I got up in my head, thought far too much about how I appeared, and realized there was no way to present my full life — my full self — on a screen. My likes or comments could be misconstrued, and in turn, flatten me into a self that lacked natural human nuance. I started to question the carefully constructed profiles, not as one new to the fact that they exist, but as someone wondering if they are merely a symptom of something greater.

I am always curating my life, whether it’s online, in person, or in my own head.

What I choose to talk about, how I say it, what I highlight, all these things add up to a particular story with a particular slant.

It doesn’t stop when I close the computer or when I put down the cell phone. It doesn’t stop when I finish a telling a story that is factually true but has a twist. And it doesn’t stop when I’m all alone, thinking over my day, or maybe, my life. When I watch short videos I’ve recorded on my phone — moments captured because I knew they would be sweet — I realize how different iPhone recordings are from the camcorder home movies of my childhood: long, tedious vhs tapes with rambling conversations, absent-minded half-hours with the camcorder on the floor while child-feet wander in and out of view. Those home movies are so much closer to life than the ones I’ve been capturing in 15 or 20 seconds. They are not all of an adorable little girl filled with joy. Having my phone at the ready is amazing, and I am so grateful. Yet, it allows me to create multiple “perfect” moments without context. Likewise, my journals are carefully shaped even if it is subconscious, and my own mind seems to be shaped, too. How I tell the story of myself to myself is a strange thing to behold.

So what, you might ask? What does this matter? I am not sure. I know through counseling and the courses I took that the narrative we tell ourselves is important: it crafts our sense of self and what we tell either empowers or degrades us. I also know that what I present of myself online is incomplete, so I can only assume that what others present is incomplete, as well.

None of this is revolutionary, but as I anticipate a winter with less human interaction and more lit-up snippets to swipe past, it feels even more important to remember. People are flesh and blood, with stories and dreams and pain. Journals may brush over them, posts may be beautifully constructed, and even the voice in our heads may have a certain way of hiding the truth, but that doesn’t change the fact that nuance, gray area, and paradox seem to be at the heart of human experience.