Another maudlin post, sorry,
It was the last day for the kids at my school today. In fact, I'm still there. Here, I mean. At work.
There's lots of construction going on over the summer, and most of the teachers have to totally pack up their classrooms by Monday. So lots of the rooms are halfway stripped already-- the bulletin boards taken down, the bookcases packed into boxes, the desks moved to the gym. One teacher I talked to was really upset; she didn't like the kids to see the classroom like that. She likes them to feel like it's always the way it is when it's their school-year home: warm, cheery, welcoming.
"School is theater," I mused out loud. "And the classrooms are the sets." And it is: it's theater. All of us teachers put on our costumes--our jumpers and sensible pants suits--and we construct the sets, and write the script, and learn our lines, and then we welcome the audience in. Sometimes, when I see a class heading for the library door, if I'm not feeling especially energetic, I do jazz hands around my face and say, to whoever's around or just to myself, "It's showtime, folks!" Just like Bob Fosse in "All That Jazz."
It's more than theater, of course. Or, it's the best kind of theater, the kind where everyone becomes part of it, everyone is changed, the actors find new meanings in lines they thought they knew by heart, the audience jumps up like in Rocky Horror and makes it their own.
And then, when the audience has gone home and the run is over for the year, there's a cast party.
This year, a lot of people I love are leaving. And I mean love. I've been here for eight years, and basically I've grown up here. When I started here, RW and I had been living together for a year, and had just had our big ceremony. I had never had a permanent professional library job. I was thirty-one, but I was barely a grownup.
There's been a stable core of the many of same people here for that eight years. Almost all of them are women, mostly married, mostly with kids, almost all straight. The youngest are a little younger than me; the oldest are my parents' age. I've seen staff kids go from elementary school to high-school graduation. There were kids in the kindergarten class this year whose births I remember celebrating at staff parties in the gym. People's parents have died; people have married, and divorced, and married again; people's kids have gotten married; people have become grandparents--a few times, much sooner than they'd thought they would.
I don't have many close friends individually on the staff, but as a group they've seen more of my life, my day-to-day real life, than anyone except Renaissance Woman and Mermaid Girl. In some ways, even more than them. I don't see my old friends so much any more, and it can be hard to talk on the phone in different time zones. When I have a problem-- almost any problem--I take it to the staff room. And the staff room comes through, for me and everyone else, with common sense, humor, and true empathy.
The staff party tonight was kind of like a wake for the people who are leaving; it's like that every year. People stood up and gave speeches in honor of each departing teacher or staff member, and more than one time the speech-giver broke down crying. And these are tough women, who corrall unruly bunches of kids all day for a living.
There were little books on a side table, where we were supposed to write something for the people leaving. Sort of like yearbooks. Over and over, I found myself writing "I've learned so much from you." About teaching, yeah, but also about...everything. Everything I've needed to know about life--about being a parent and a spouse and a grown child and a daughter-in-law and a friend and a person in the world-- I've learned at the staff room table, from the stories people have told and the conversations I've overheard and the rock-solid advice my co-workers have given.
I want to give examples, but so much of what people have shared is so personal, it feels wrong.
And a lot of the people who have done that for me--shared their lives, spilled their guts, listened while I spilled mine--are leaving this year. So, it's hard. This is my village, and the staff room is my village square.
They don't know it, but there's a good chance they'll be writing in a little book for me next year.
I don't know if most workplaces are like this; somehow, I don't think so. I'll have to find my village somewhere else. But where?