If I were still teaching fifth grade, I would point out to my students how this word comes from two Latin roots. “Ambi”, I would tell them. “It means both or all around.” I would circle the first root for them. “Valent”, I’d say, looking at their faces. “Does anyone see a familiar word part in there? Do you recognize anything?”
I would wait a bit, let them think or talk a bit. If no one responded, I’d let my marker underline the letter “v-a-l”. Someone would raise a hand and say, “value?” with a rising tone to show uncertainty. If I was lucky, someone would have noticed the similarity between “valent” and “equivalent”.
If I were still teaching, I’d guide them to the realization that “ambivalent” means “two values” or “two measures”. I would then give them a lesson in using context cues to derive the meaning of this new word, now that they understood its roots.
“Let me put it in a sentence for you, guys”, I’d say. “I am ambivalent about the start of the school year.”
If I were still teaching, this sentence would make us all laugh.
If I were still teaching, my ambivalence would be of a different sort than it is this year.
I am not teaching any more. I am not setting up my classroom, planning the first few “get to know you” activities or ordering new books for the classroom library. I’m sad. I should be spending the last two weeks of August memorizing the names of my new kids, in alphabetical order. I should be sending out that “Welcome to Room 210!” letter where I tell them to relax, to bring in a book to read and a good snack to get them through the morning. I should be sending them my email address, and encouraging them to write to me.
I should be buying some new clothes and new pair of Dansko clogs. I’m sad.
But this year, summer will not end for me on August 31st. This year, summer will last until the first frost. For the first time in so many years, I’ll be able to walk in the sunshine in September, go to the beach after Labor Day, continue to visit the farm stand while the tomatoes wane and the pumpkins come into season.
I’m so delighted!
I feel free for the first time since I can remember. If I want to take a drive to the Berkshires to see my boys, I can do it! If I decide to stay home and bake pies all day, I can do that, too.
No more rubrics. No more correcting. No more gathering of upset children in the hall outside my door to help them cope with hurt feelings. No more recess, no more permission slips, no more lunch count.
No more standardized tests. Ever.
I am the embodiment of ambivalence. I will miss my school friends so much that I can hardly stand it. How will I get by without my morning hugs from my teaching buddies? Where will I go to share stories, to share laughs, to swap ideas?
And after six years of working and commuting with my daughter, what will I do without those long rides to share ideas and thoughts and lesson plans? What will I do when I can’t talk to her every day?
And, God how I’ll miss the kids. I am at my best in a room full of ten year olds. They challenge me, they make me laugh, they reflect back the warmth and love that I give to them. When I’m teaching, I feel alive. I feel validated. I feel useful. I’m sad.
But this year is my “do over” year; I will spend the cool days of late fall and the icy days of winter and the melting, muddy days of spring with my beautiful baby granddaughter in my house. She’ll be there when I bake cookies, she’ll snuggle in my arms while I read to her, she’ll look out the window at the falling rain with me. My heart is bursting with joy.
“Ambivalent”, I will whisper into her soft dark hair. “I am full of too many conflicting feelings to be able to put them into words.” I’ll hold her closer and close my eyes and breathe in her baby scent.
I am ambivalent.