Trapeze artists fly through the air with the greatest of ease, but not without a net. No one flies without a net, but it can feel like we do. Teachers are high flying acrobats who fly the highest at the beginning of the year. Before our students even enter the room, we have a repertoire of the tried and true. Our stunts and maneuvers uncover the rigors of our classroom, the joy of a literate community, and the excitement of getting something brand new just right. We get to know our students; they get to know us and each other. The more skilled we are, the more effortless it all looks. Our repertoire helps us make it through September. By October, it is clear that the pairing of teacher and class is a love match. The routines and rituals have been established. We soar, learn, and make mistakes. Only the teacher knows the amount of summer preparation, reading, cleaning, organizing, writing, and coursework that is involved in laying the groundwork for the acrobatic feats of deep learning. September is tough. September is worth it. September makes way for October.
This year September is tougher than usual. Room 204 is happening without me. The first week of school my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. The second week of school she was hospitalized. Now she is a Hospice patient at home. I am absent from school so I can be present to her. This. Here. Now. Sometimes it feels like we are making this up as we go along and discovering new moves in mid-air. It is the most daring of family acts and my mother is bent on the good finish. But sometimes it really does feel like we are flying without a net.
The first thing I did was find a great substitute teacher. The next thing I did was choose a great book to help my class process my impending leave. To ease the transition, I gave each child a piece of string and asked my third graders to brainstorm all the ways string might be useful and important. They held on to the string as I read The Invisible String by Patricia Karst. In this book, a mother explains to her children that we are connected to the people we love–and to the people they love–by invisible string that will not break. I explained to my third graders I was leaving for a while and why. I told them they could keep the pieces of string in their pencil boxes as a reminder of the invisible string that connects us, even when we are not together.
Much of what I do now is help my mother welcome her wonderful friends who come to support her. A group that has met at my mother’s house for the last 27 years came last week. I told them about The Invisible String. Before I knew it, I was reading them the book. Suddenly the book (like most good quality children’s literature) took us to a deeper, quieter, and more poetic place.
And then I saw it. When we leap into the unknown, we may fly high–but never without a net. Not ever. Our net may be invisible, but its invisible string shimmers with love, hope, grace, and profound connection. It is strengthened by who are and who we love and who loves us. It stretches from the past and into eternity.
Our family story is a great big beautiful messy love story with lots of happy endings. My mother taught us to believe in happy endings, but never more powerfully or courageously than she is teaching us now. Each day is a stunning leap into the unknown. But never without a net– a net made strong by invisible string. A net made strong by love.