I remember back when I struggled so much with the sadness of the empty nest. Back then, it was the children who had left me behind. I missed them terribly, and had to give myself the time to grieve.
Now I find myself facing a different kind of emptiness. This time, I am the one who has left the children.
Last June I retired from teaching, well before I was ready to go. I left before I had finished the job. Before I had reached my best, before I had grown too old and tired to love the children.
But I retired, having read the handwriting on the wall. I understood that I was no longer seen as relevant or valuable, at least not by the people who do the evaluations. My usual well respected questions were no longer welcome, but were now seen as insurrection. All of the knowledge about children that I had gathered and learned over my 30 years of teaching were suddenly “outdated” and in need of replacement. When I couldn’t manage to forget what I knew, it was time to move on.
So I said goodbye to a job I loved and was so proud to do. I took myself out of the world of “teachers”. I left my wonderful school behind. I left the comforting support of my colleagues and friends.
I’m the one who left the nest.
So today I am sad. I miss those children so much! I miss the bright eyes, the goofy grins, the lame bathroom jokes. I miss the rapt faces as I read out loud. I miss the morning meetings and the “sharing” stories of soccer games and birthday parties and new puppies.
I miss the flushed faces of children coming back inside after recess on a cold day. I miss the hushed conversations in the hall as I help a group of girls work out a social struggle.
I miss the math lessons, the moments of “lightbulb” realization. God, I miss the hugs and the little drawings and the poems and the handmade bracelets. I miss knowing that they are happy to see me. I miss the incredible validation that comes from the realization that they trust me, and respect me.
I miss seeing those children make progress. I miss the moments when they surprise themselves. I miss seeing them slowly come to the realization that they disagree with my interpretation of something, and gather the courage to challenge me.
I miss being a teacher. I do.
I miss the hugs that came at the end of almost every day. I miss having all those smiling little faces saying, “See you tomorrow!” as they headed out the door.
I wasn’t ready to go.
I miss it.