One of the most exciting days for Austin seniors is the day the yearbooks arrive; the students and staff are always excited to see the Omega, and since much of our student body is with us from grade six (affectionately nicknamed "the lifers") the students page through with good-natured groans at the images of their younger selves, while simultaneously loving their recent snaps. They usually enter one of their teachers' rooms in large groups, to settle in and leaf through their copies, and while initially the conversation is boisterous and hearty ("Dude, your sixth-grade hair? You have a mushroom!" "Ahhh, look at my semi date? Ewww!") within minutes, a hush falls over the room, and they get lost in nostalgia.
Sometimes, their reveries are interrupted by each others' questions ("Who was that girl at the prom with the crazy dress?") but this year, while looking through my copy, I did the interrupting. I had stumbled on a slang term I'd never heard before.
"What's a 'starter kit'?" I asked my seniors.
"It's the things that make you, you," replies one of my most laid-back seniors, a tall gentleman who would continually enter my classroom with a lazy "Hey girl" to me, despite my repeated suggestions that he discontinue the practice. "Like yours, Ms. P? Yours would definitely have a giant Starbucks green iced tea," he replied.
"A copy of The Great Gatsby, obviously," his friend intoned.
"Dance stuff," chimed in another.
"High heels, French manicures and makeup," from a senior who, perplexingly, slept through most of my classes. Guess she had one eye open for fashion.
"Pretty stationery and good pens," piped in a blonde girl.
And it was enlightening, to see the way kids saw the pieces of what "made" me, me. The little necessary outward things that defined who I am, or at the very least, who they thought I was. It made me think: what are the things that truly make me, me? That make me feel alive? That intrinsically make me feel grounded, yet light?
There are so many things I love to do: spending time with my kids is at the top of the list. But being a mom is draining, and sometimes my "mom" definition simply isn't enough. I am not a better mom when I don't have time to dance, read, put on some lipstick and write a long-overdue thank-you. And sometimes those pieces get lost, because I am busy "putting the kids first," or feeling supremely guilty if I don't! For example, I love to dance, and while I have been teaching it non-stop for the last 22 years at Austin, I rarely get to an actual class for myself. Lots of my inspiration comes from videos that I watch on my iPad late at night, or from organic choreography sessions with my seniors. My personal dance has been limited, and I realized it was making me sad to lose that part of myself. This summer, I vow to take my 44-year-old self to class, and to reclaim a part of me that has long since been asleep.
Let's hope Tylenol and muscle relaxers don't become part of my new starter kit.
(UPDATE August 10: I have made it to nearly two weeks of classes. My flexibility is a faint shadow of itself, yet I love every minute of my class. There are some familiar faces and some fun new connections. The choreography is as cool as ever. And I? I am loving my time being myself again.)