To celebrate my 700th day of living in Hong Kong, I left! I hadn’t been home to California since last summer and I felt it in my bones. The last few months of work have been intense for a variety of reasons and I was ready for time off. One of the magical things about being a teacher is that I can end and begin again with each school year. I’ve had four different roles this year, and it’s been a lot more lows than highs, so I was ready to close this year out and look forward to a new one.
I will miss a lot about teaching first grade . . . how they call me “Mom” and get so excited to show me a loose tooth or a haircut or tattle tale on each other. It’s incredible to be a part of someone’s life when they’re learning how to add, subtract, read and write. They’re so interested in you. And remember everything you say, for better or for worse.
After lunch, we always had story time or read a book, and they would always ask “tell us another story about getting in trouble” (of which I had an endless supply) or for inside information about my sisters or the dogs. They knew all my family members by name and loved to see pictures of them. At the same time, they can’t remember how to get in a line from day to day, and I spend most of the day reminding them to keep their hands out of their pants and their noses. I will love them and worry about them forever, but I’m glad they’re someone else’s responsibility now.
Being at an international school, I had to say goodbye to a lot of students and colleagues who are moving on, which is wild, because I won’t see them again this side of Heaven. I’ve said a lot of these kind of goodbyes in my life, having lived on three continents now. Never gets easier. I mostly just pretend nothing is happening and try to avoid them, if possible, which is really mature of me.
Next year will be my TENTH (how am I that old) year of teaching, and I will be in fourth grade! Of which I mostly remember doing California history and long division and playing Oregon Trail on the ONE computer there was in the classroom. With Stephen Smith, who I was in love with for about fifteen years.
So this year ended, and I packed my bags, I was ready to go. And standing in between me and home for six weeks was just one long as plane ride. I haven’t flown this flight pattern before – 11am HK time to 9am SFO time, on the same day. It’s a 13 hour flight, landing in San Francisco on the same day “BEFORE” I even left. It’s straight up Delorean time travel.
I had had a tiny panic attack on my long flight to London, where I was given an oxygen tank for a bit. The turbulence and my swirling thoughts had made me hyperventilate in a way that was uncomfortable for the poor people sitting next to me. I wasn’t looking forward to this flight at all. But it was a necessary evil standing between my puppies and Mexican food and me.
Perhaps it’s too many romantic comedies, but for some reason I’ve always imagined I’ll meet the elusive man of my dreams on a plane. He’d somehow be charmed by my yoga pants that have never been to yoga, and the excessive paperback books I never get around to reading, and how I have to wear a mouthguard to even take a nap on the plane. And we’d fall in love on that fateful flight and then get married and open my goat rescue farm slash apiary and have our amazing “how we met” story for our barnyard/mason jar/flower crown wedding.
Alas, instead of Prince Charming, I was seated next to a boring teenage girl, who ended up being not boring, because she took out a binder as thick as my calf, filled with sheet music, put in headphones, and proceeded to read through it and conduct an imaginary orchestra the entire flight. I was fascinated.
Airplanes are compelling sociology experiments in general. Everyone is the worst version of themselves on a plane. There are so many strategies you need to employ – how to time your sleeping pill to acclimatize to your next destination and avoid the hangover of jetlag, how to get the right seat and position for ultimate overhead space, and when to time your bathroom visits.
Upon boarding, everyone apparently enters another space and time continuum and completely forgets whatever manners they ever had. No one can remember how to keep a toilet clean. Without fail, I always sit in front of someone with Goliath height and bony knees, and the desire to play video games on the console attached to my headrest. Or next to a child who has been handed an ipad to play casino games on, but no headphones.
I would like to institutionalize a “Black Mirror” – like social credit system for flight travel, where you up or down vote fellow passengers based on behaviors. And then they can all sit in a noisy, sneezy, armrest jostling, lights on and conversations all night, designated section full of flatulence and whiny children and fight for overhead bin space all together. While I watch from somewhere else. Preferably a different plane.
The only time I ever watch movies is on a plane, so I get super picky about what I watch, spending a Netflix forty minutes scrolling through all options, inevitably falling asleep because I can’t make a decision. Then I spend an inordinate amount of time watching films over people’s shoulders that I could easily pull up on my own screen and watch in my own language.
On this flight I finished “The Favourite” (leftover from my last flight, and it ended, and I looked all around for someone to talk to about it, because WHAT), finally saw “Hidden Figures” (and LOVE) and also watched “Eighth Grade” which I’m gonna say is a must-see for anyone raising or teaching children these days.
I take a lot of long flights, so there is always a chance of turbulence. Flying over Japan is always be quite rocky. This flight was no exception. The attendants were summoned to their jump seats several times, and service was stopped and started to accommodate for the shakes. It was another flight spent bargaining with God, promising to eat more veggies, be a better person, and reviewing plane crash stats in my head to convince myself this was not how I die.
I recently taught my students all 66 books of the Bible in order, so I sang that to myself over and over, and read a book about hoarders, and watched some Ted Talks to get me through it.
Something about plane rides always make me a bit fatalistic, as well. I reevaulate a conversation I had seven years ago. I feel guilty about something I did or didn’t do as a teenager. I make lists of things to accomplish, goals I have, read/watch a lot of self-help stuff. Is it the fact that we’re 37,000 feet in the air, a totally unnatural thing to be doing, that makes me think I can also accomplish so much impossible, like “make bed every day” and “learn to like seafood” ?? All of a sudden I feel a compulsion, this sort of – “just reached cruising altitude, time to consider grad school/becoming a foster parent/learning Arabic/volunteering at a senior center!” hits me.
Somehow organizing all this impossible into a list makes it feel like I have a modicum of control over a life I’ve never really been able to predict. Maybe it’s because we’re up in space and closer to God? That’s probably heretical. Anyway.
I try to combat this with some on-the-fly therapy. Brene Brown is a new discovery for me. I’m reading and watching everything I can get my hands on about her research on shame and vulnerability.
One of her points, and it’s not revolutionary, is to practice a lot of gratitude. I tried this on the plane. I asked myself, “What am I grateful about in my life in Hong Kong?” After way too long a pause, I came up with: “I’m glad I can afford to go home once a year.”
That that is all I can say hurt like a punch to the gut, but it was true. Life’s been hard. I didn’t know why for a long time, but now I can articulate that I’ve let other people have complete power over my idea of self-worth and identity. It makes me miserable. It’s given me anxiety and handed over control of my self-worth to people who probably don’t think about me ever. My life is more than that. It is hard sometimes, and I’m wading through BS sometimes, but I could do better. There’s a positive spin to be spun here!
So I will upgrade my statement and say: I’m grateful to have friends who stick by me and help me get through all the life. I’m grateful for challenges that refine me. I’m grateful for opportunities to carve out a path for those who can follow.
If you’re struggling with any of that, too, here’s the advice that’s been helping me:
Remember what you know about yourself to be true, even when people make you question it. Lately, too many times to be a coincidence, I have heard women say “tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth.”
Here goes my truth:
- I am smart as, and funny as, and beautiful as.
- I am valuable.
- I am professional.
- I am an excellent teacher.
- I am worthy of love.
- What I am, what I say, and what I do matters and is making a difference. Even if I can’t tell right away.
And I’m practicing saying that loudly and often enough that I believe it.
I’m at home now, in my parents’ backyard, with it’s ineffectual citronella candles, the deer rustling in the creek beyond the deck, the puppies cuddled to my side, craft IPA beers on endless tap, my hair falling around me without the mess and tangles of humidity, in a shirt that says “sorry for partying,” which my mom rolls her eyes at and pretends to hate but that’s why I wear it.
I’ve a list of simple goals for this summer, most of which involve eating, and I think I’m allowed to be that basic. I’m looking forward to a five pound weight gain, good times with family, hours in the backyard staring at the sky, and a giant reset of life. I want to remember and believe what is true and important to me and about me, and have a lot of frozen yogurt. With a side of ranch and ‘Merica.
Wish me luck.