When I grow up, I want to be a ballerina president. And a tree. Because trees are cool.
Thus began the first sentence of my titular work, Me for President (Trees are cool too), written and edited by a topiary besotted 1st grader. The syntax was a little funky, but that kid’s heart was in the right place. Two lessons can be garnered from this text of bygone Glynnis lore:
It is a deeply humbling thing to know you peaked at six years old.
I am not who I thought I would be when I grew up.
I am not who I thought I would be when I grew up. It’s an exercise in thought and disappointment to dig too deep into that quandary. At night, when I am trying to actually sleep at a decent time for once, I wonder, what would the Glynnis of back then think?
I can picture her (them? They always knew that she wasn’t quite right, but loquacious as she was she could never find the right word)- her, in a pink puffy sweater, bangs in a bright blond bob, pants become short far too quickly, rocking on her toes like she can’t bear to sit still for even a moment (was she dancing? Was it symptoms of anxiety before the words were known? God, so many labels and none of them fit a scrappy little six year old who couldn’t pause for a moment, had to know everything, had to go go go or something might be missed, as her parents would say over and again: Lord, I can see every atom in your being vibrating, BE STILL, as if they were my creators, and I knew nothing but the speed of light).
How would she look at me?
My students told me they have never seen me sit down. I stood on a chair screaming in exaltation over the arrival of Caesar to Rome following the death of Pompey, because I wanted my kids to understand, because if they don’t take in every part of the world there might be something that they miss. I had so many ideas on what I was going to be and at every juncture I have changed my mind.
I was told, after I wrote that book, that girls don’t become president. I have yet to see the day that that problem is resolved, but joke’s on them anyway because I am not a girl.
I was told, shortly after that book, by the nuns that taught me ballet at the convent on the hill that “your feet are too big, you shall be too tall to be a proper ballerina, no man wants to catch a tall ballerina”. I mean, not true, but ok. Forgive me sister for I have sinned by being genetically predisposed to existing as a Norski fixture of viking genes. I am the sum of parts best left to tilling the land, I guess.
I still hold out hopes on the tree thing panning out. And I'm sure I could wax poetic about strong roots and sturdy branches, but that seems like low hanging fruit (aha). And truly, I do mean a giant towering oak that could vanquish any before me. Nothing metaphysical or metaphorical. Just living out my dreams of being an Ent.
The thing is, I am 31 and I really have no idea what I want to be when I grow up. Happy? That would be a boon, and there are far too many days where I am certainly not that. I get up in the morning, I dither and dread the process of dragging one foot in front of the other to make it to the car, then the cataclysmic chasm that is the yawning stretch of road leading to school. It takes eons and a handful of Zoloft to keep going some days.
I used to love teaching. Lord, I still do most of the time. But there are days that feel like I am ripping myself to shreds. Children are hurting, the pandemic took so much from them and more and more of my kiddos don’t know what it means to act like a human. My high schoolers are filled to the brim with so much breathless anxiety, so much unnegotiated trauma, that school is a secondary focus. My 10th graders have not attended school since the 8th grade. As 16 year olds, as high schoolers, this is their first time in the building, the first time being given responsibility and autonomy. They are drowning, and as I was never trained as a lifeguard, I feel like I am sinking right alongside them. And rather than that loss being acknowledged by a government and society that tells us America is the greatest country in the world, we as educators are villainized and penalized for the lack of progress our kids are making. But honestly? I would love for them to see my children. How many times I am sitting here holding a kid who is wailing because they dropped a granola bar and their fragile hold on control is so tenuous that this, this right here was the last straw, the thing that finally broke them.
I have been doing this job for ten years. These last two years have been an absolute hell. Partially because I was a fool and went to graduate school for theatre, and graduated at the start of the pandemic, when every theatre died a harsh death of a thousand closures. So here I am, not the president, not a tree, not a ballerina nor an actor, and barely hanging on to being an educator.
What would she say to me in this moment? That little one that strangled and choked on injustice. Would she struggle with the weight of disappointment, her tiny voice crying her old refrain of “not fair”? I teach large scale world design and concepts of justice, I speak for dead poets and authors that have long since let the dust settle over their bones. I teach the gravitas of grammar, only to break those same rigid structures because language is imaginary and used as a tool of verbal red lining and classism. I open myself up vulnerable every single day and it hurts to be open and loving and warm in a setting so antithetical to that kind of empathy.
I walked into the world with the hope to save it, make it better, but it seems these days like I am barely staunching the blood flow from a cannonball wound through the chest. My dude, I can see clear through the bloody pulp: there is no amount of bandaids that will web this thing back together until the actual problem is addressed. I am flayed and my kids are bleeding and the government is telling me that I am worse than useless. I am tired and underpaid and I can’t go to the doctor on the insurance that I am given. My job requires I stay after school until late in the evening, that I spend my nights grading hundreds of assignments. That I make calls to CPS because children tell me everything and no one can do anything and maybe the government is right, because sometimes it truly does feel like I am useless, that I cannot do anything. I am not saving the world, I am trying my damnedest to be a space that children can feel loved and be enough for them to tide them over in a world of petty adults with far too much power.
I have two degrees and ten years of teaching experience and a certification of excellence on my educator’s exams and yet AND YET the best I can hope for is my molars ground to dust biting back the acid that I want to scream. Mary Oliver said “MEND MY LIFE” and for the life of me, those hands that grab and take are getting stronger than the storm that whips and pulls. I listen to the news and they say that teachers, teachers are not to be trusted, and dammit all if I was going to be a villain or a monster, at the very least let me do it in a cinematic way, aware of the downfall I cause rather than finding out about it surreptitiously via NPR. Not the president or a tree, but at the very least a super villain of extravagant means and literary note.
I go home, I sit down, and often, I do not have the energy to move until bedtime. My atoms have slowed and the will to dance has faded, surely.
What am I anymore?
Certainly not what I wanted to be.