Today is the first day of a new school year. And where am I? Making garlic dill pickles and sitting on the deck here at camp, with my feet up, watching the seagulls. Weird. That’s how it feels. Weird. I shouldn’t be home, you see. I should be at school. In my classroom, with my students.
While cancer can’t stop some things (Camp Gramma!), it has stopped me from doing one of the things I love – teaching and learning with children every day. Today is the first time in a very long time that I wasn’t directly impacted by the first day of school. Why, even when I was a toddler, my older siblings left me on the first day of school. Then, I went to school for years. I took a six year break from school while the children were growing, and then spent years with them being in school. While that was happening, I went back to school and became a teacher. From there, I’ve not missed a first day of school. That’s a longstanding tradition. A tough one to try ignore or think of as “just another day”. It’s THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL, and it means something to me.
Last year I tried to work 60% time, and I think did so quite successfully until the end of May. I know it was important to me that I be there, and I hope my students benefited from my presence. I appreciated my school administration’s willingness to let me job share. I’m grateful to Andrea for being my longterm sub through my sabbatical and my illness.
So it was, in May 2017, we got confirmation that cancer had crept past my magic friend Xalkori (crizotinib) and we would need to move to the next line of treatment. Yeah, I already knew – we’d been watching the beast creep in, and there were symptoms for a couple months, but now decisions had to be made, appointments were scheduled, “cruise control” shut off. Time to apply for what, in the world of Maine teachers, is called “retirement disability”.
The term “retirement disability” really bothers me. It has nothing to do with retiring, and is about accessing that retirement fund for disability. I wanted to retire on my own terms, when I was “ready”. Retirement should be joyful! I was occupied with completing forms to giving permission to MainePers to access my medical records so that someone could judge whether I was disabled enough to qualify for benefits. It was not the retirement I had envisioned. (I am though very grateful for having benefits to apply for, and access to health insurance.)
Back to today, the FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL. Today, I am joyful on this first day of school. The paperwork stuff (another story) all worked out. I had a wonderful summer of teaching and learning with children all summer. I am here in the place that I love for longer this fall than if I was back to school today. And, even if it’s not every day, I know I will be with children learning and playing, either with the grandchildren or volunteering in my dear friend Kathy’s classroom. It’s the first day of school, and I’m drinking my afternoon tea.