Monday, August 12, 2013

Okay, now I'm homesick.

It's been almost eight months since I've been back in the United States after leaving Dakar. Maybe I have a heart of steel, but I am only just now getting homesick.

It's not that I didn't miss DA and Dakar and Africa, but I was so much in need of a break and a rest that I just soaked up the break and the rest and didn't feel homesick. I did miss my friends, my dorm girls, my students, but I just wasn't pining away for them. I'd look at pictures posted from events I was missing with a sort of cozy nostalgia, but basically feel okay that I wasn't there.

But, now I'm homesick. (I hope you're happy.)

DA starts up on Wednesday, and I am not there. I belong there. I fit there. I'm known there. I'm established there.

And though I am sure where I am going will be a great place to work and teach, and I'm sure I'll fall in love with my kids like I usually do, it's going to take time and hard work. I am still a stranger there. I am an unknown name on a class schedule. A mystery. A puzzle. A challenge.

I'm not only homesick because of my trepidation of starting anew. I'm just homesick, plain and simple. It's tough not to belong, it's tough to know that there's a place where you do belong, but that God--and your own common sense--has called you away from there. I'm not doubting or regretting my decision. I'm glad to feel homesick, now, eight months later, because I was actually worried when I wasn't.

I'm homesick for those happy reunions after summer vacation with my returning students, the shared inside jokes, the memories flowing, the fog of the end of the year covering the lingering tension and weariness that we all shared in the last month. I'm homesick for the pleasant surprise of finding students on campus early, and chatting with them by the lockers outside my classroom as we both feel the anticipation and excitement of the coming year.

I'm homesick for those first few awkward days of school with the students I haven't taught yet. I'm homesick for the cautious glances they share as they wonder: "Is she as scary as we think?" 

I'm homesick for setting up my beloved classroom, for getting out my familiar classroom decorations, for the fun of putting up my bulletin boards and arranging my desks just so. For the simple pleasure of seeing my clean curtains put up after summer vacation, and talking with the custodian, Idrissa, about his wife and new baby as he finishes cleaning my room after the dusty summer.

I'm homesick for seeing my colleagues and dear friends returning for the summer--the sharing of hilarious summer stories, of breakfast and snack time and lunch at staff orientation; of watching the new staff sit one by one in Cori's "office" and be informed by everyone except for Cori that it's Cori's seat. I'm homesick for rolling my eyes at the same-old-same-old information that I have memorized by now, and doodling on my legal pad as we go over, once again, RenWeb procedures. I'm homesick for frantically scribbling lists during professional development of everything I have yet to accomplish.

I'm even homesick for the power going off just when teachers are released to work in their classroom, and the feeling of working in my hot, dark classroom as an August storm brews dark on the horizon, blotting out all light at 4:00 in the afternoon, and sweating dusty rivulets that soak my t-shirt in the humid afternoon, and then the joy of the storm finally breaking and the heavens opening up and releasing their tremendous gift of life-giving rain, and delicious coolness.

I'm homesick for swapping "how was your first day?" stories in the staff lounge with my friends, as we sit, exhausted, on sagging couches, munching on leftover, stale treats from staff orientation, and sharing our observations and little tales of the first day together until we finally gather up the strength to go home, or go back to work.

I'm homesick for that frantic Back to School Night/Meet the Teacher night, and the stress of meeting parents for the first time, the new parents' faces stern as they look over my syllabi and as I tell them a little about my class--but the "old" parents laughing with me and telling me about their older kids I've already taught and their college adventures. I'm homesick for the end of that first short week of school, for curling up on my couch and feeling that delicious exhaustion--of being so tired that you cannot even will yourself to get up to take off your school clothes and you fall asleep until nearly midnight, waking up in a confused a post-first-week-of-school stupor--and then being unable to fall asleep again as your mind races through everything you should have done and everything you have to do.

I'm homesick for that first night as dorm relief, getting to know the new girls in the dorm and learn their stories. I'm homesick for the hugs that the "old" dorm girls give me as they fill me in on the happenings of their summer.

I'm homesick for knowing how things work, for knowing where I fit.

I'm homesick because DA is home, still, and probably always will be in some corner of my heart. I know from experience that you can't go home again--six years ago I learned that lesson after returning to DA. It was something I knew absolutely going into it and while it was challenging, the new me, and the new DA found each other and that little place became even more dear to me as a teacher than as a student.

Don't worry, I'm not in the depths of despair or anything--this is just some belated musings and reflection. I am really excited for my new school, my new students, my new courses. I'm excited for what God has in store for me. But, I also miss and love that place I know so well.

Recently, people keep asking me: "Do you think you'll go back to DA?" Honestly, I can't say. I love it; it's a special place. I don't know if God will call me back there--at this point, today, I don't think I'll go back to DA for a long time. This sounds extremely cheesy but, I want to see the world: I have every intention of teaching overseas again, but I don't know if that means DA, again. I don't want to rule it out, but I do feel that God is calling me to a different kind of school, and that's okay, too.

And so, to all my DA colleagues (aka friends) and students (aka my kids), I wish you a wonderful start to the school year. May God richly bless you in this year with both challenges and gifts that draw you closer to Him. Keep your eyes fixed on Christ. Students: do your homework, and try not to complain too much. Teachers: remember to put enter grades in at least once a week, and try not to complain too much. And have a marvelous school year--yes, even though I won't be there.