Thursday, September 2, 2010

Free FALLing!

Random picture from Fall 2008 -- dissertation defense looming
As it is for many other Midwesterners, Fall has always been my favorite season. Changing leaves. Football Saturdays. Pumpkin scented candles. New jeans. Caramel apples. School supplies. Long walks that don't involve snow or humidity. Most of all, the hopeful, fresh start that the back-to-school season offers.
As much as I love Fall, I also associate the season with stress: homework to do, papers to grade, lessons to plan, college applications to write (Fall 1992 only), a dissertation with a deadline, test prep and writing students to tutor. These various academic tasks of student and teacher have always loomed large for me, ever threatening to be the proverbial rain on my fall parade.
Fall 2003 or maybe 2004 -- I look stressed out about something, right?
Sure, I've enjoyed watching Notre Dame play on many a Saturday, but in the back of my mind, there have always been the papers waiting to be written or graded to awake to on Sunday morning. Yes, I've gone to watch friends and family run the Chicago marathon on gorgeous fall mornings . . . but not without that slightly sick feeling in my stomach about what still needed to get done before Monday. Ditto the family outing to the pumpkin patch, the weekend trip to visit friends and family, the novels read in autumnal sunshine, the time spent testing out "fall" recipes in the kitchen. I have seldom succeeded in savoring the pleasures of the season without feelings of guilt or anxiety over the work not yet done.
It's sad but true and my fault. As a student, I'm a hard worker, a worrier, and a perfectionist. As a teacher, I have consistently failed to strike a satisfying work-life balance, to learn to work efficiently, to make lasting peace with doing "the best I can in the situation" versus the best I know I could do if there were world enough and time. For all that angst, I'm not a great teacher, just a woman who believes she could or should be a great one. In academic situations, I am sort of a worrywart freak who cannot let "it" go.
In the spring (semester), these shortcomings of mine matter less, for some reason. The school year is a known quantity by that point. The weather mix of snow, rain, and inconsistent sun doesn't lend itself to high expectations.
But in the Fall, I want it all. I want to do it all well, to enjoy it all, to take the fresh start that the new school year offers and turn it into something beautiful. I never quite manage.
This Fall marks the first season since 1978 when I will not be a student or a teacher. I no longer have any papers that I have to write. I have no lessons to plan. There are no student papers to grade. I'm free. Free FALLing.
This feeling of freedom is particularly intoxicating after last Fall when newly (and exhaustingly, nauseatingly) pregnant, I started teaching again for the first time since 2001. A new and out-of-my-comfort zone course. A new grade level. Two kids at home. Not quite enough child care and yet a paycheck that covered little beyond child care. While it felt good to be teaching again, when I look back on the semester even now, I feel physically tired and slightly sick to my stomach.
I'm probably never going to be a student again (except one of life) as I've pretty much exhausted the patience, good will, and resources of the MEP & Hubby Family Scholarship Foundation. I'm not done with teaching forever, not by a long shot, but I don't think I can swing it this school year.
But this Fall, this Fall is my gift, my reward, my time to enjoy the season's pleasures with my family and friends in a way that I've never been able to do in the past. I'm going to take walks, eat hot pretzels and cheese dip, make applesauce in the crock pot, visit the pumpkin patch and photograph the hell out of my lil pumpkins, tailgate at Notre Dame, carve pumpkins, crack open my cookbooks, and enjoy all the "free time" that comes my way.
Sure, there are things to miss about being a student or a teacher in the Fall, but I am so very excited to just be a mom this Fall (and a wife, daughter, sister, friend, blogger, reader, and cook) that I doubt I'll miss them.
What does this Fall have in store for you? What gives you that free FALLing feeling? What's your favorite season?


Heather said...

I am SO glad for you! Fall is my favorite season, too, and it sounds like you have plans to do all of the things that a midwestern fall consists of.

As for me, I am a student again after 15 years of NOT being one. The only class I have to take this fall is English 289, which will be oodles better than chemistry and genetics, I am certain. Only working two nights a week, I have lots of fall plans, as well!

Here's to pumpkin spice lattes from Starbucks, hayrides with kiddos, and the smell of burning leaves and wood in the air!

PITA said...

I think as a teacher, one is obligated to love summer. Which I really do. However, there is something special about the looming fall. The anticipation of your new students and putting your classroom back together again. It can come with a hint of stress as well. My favorite part of the fall....wearing my favorite clothing item again - jeans! Here's to a fun and relaxing fall for you Pooks!

Anonymous said...

I swear, I thought you were talking about me! I, too, cannot "let it go" and even on Saturday nights out worry about what needs to get done on Sunday! I am, in fact, typing this as I catch up on grading so I can enjoy a weekend in Vegas. I hope you enjoy your deserve it!!!
Melissa Compton Moore

Actchy said...

I, myself, have never faced an Autumn with quite as many butterflies in my stomach.

And by, "butterflies", of course...I mean babies.

Stacia said...

Ooooooh, fall is my favorite! In fact, it's on my to-do list (the one that never ends) to put out my fall decorations this weekend as I watch a game or four of college football. We'll still have temps in the triple digits, but I. Don't. Care. It's fall!! (Almost.)

PS: You know I understand this perpetual overwhelmed feeling. And hey, woman, you stole my post title! Ha! =>

LAP said...

I love your take on the fall. I remember enjoying last year's "freshly sharpened pencils" one around this time as well. You've got me excited for fall even as I so desperately try to hang on to the last official days of summer. We'll be doing the standard pumpkin patch visit, going to our first college football game with the girls (and our first as adults since before-kids), going to the Halloween events at Kings Island and the zoo, and maybe finding a place to pick apples, though I can never seem to get that last one done.

I am happy for you and all your "free" time. Enjoy it!!! And, as much as I have always enjoyed having you as an older sister, I think am a little scarred from the fall of 1992.

E... said...

I loved this post, because it put into words so many of the conflicting feelings I have about fall. It's my birthday time of the year, after all, so I have some very fond feelings, plus I LOVE all the activities associated. But there does always seem to be SOMETHING looming and ominous in those cooling off days, and it usually has something to do with something new and uncertain. Yay for you for taking a much needed 'break' Enjoy!! I'll be working on adding another Virgo to the house (or maybe he's going to wait and be a Libra?)

Tracey - Just Another Mommy Blog said...

I love fall, too! It's so exciting. The lovely weather and changes and colors and last ditch efforts to get as much time outside before the winter hits.

Enjoy! We will be doing a great pumpkin patch over here and a couple of war reenactments (my sons love those).

Miss Welcome said...

This was so poetically written. Enjoy your Fall off. (It's my favorite season too).

dusty earth mother said...

I didn't know you were a teacher! I bet you're such a good one. But I am extremely happy that you get to enjoy this fall, being a former midwesterner myself. Have fun, Mep, you deserve it!

Anonymous said...

What a gift it a most deserving person! Enjoy "Free falling" with your family this year.

For me, it's soccer season!!! With one playing his first year of SAY, and both playing a little indoor, I'm loving life right now. I'm looking forward to a few outdoor sporting events, obsessing over Halloween costumes a little more than I should, and, most ridiculously, already thinking about what I'm going to do about the Christmas card photo. I'm also delighting in my own work schedule being particularly lighter and more flexible so that I can be at any and all field trips or outings that come our way. It's Fall!!! (almost) Rita

Melissa Walters said...

You know, I never realized how much I liked fall until I quit my job. I could never see past the new school year and all it entailed to get my room ready (and kindergarten is alot of prep) and then teach children who have never been to school every little rule imaginable and why it's important... phrases like "hand goes up mouth goes shut" come to mind, and use your inside voice, and this is how you line up. When I say neighbor I mean the person sitting next to you, not the person who lives next door. etc.

But, being home the last 2 years, I have really come to enjoy fall and I can't wait to do all the fall fun things with Brady now that he's slightly older...zoo, pumpkin patch, etc.

I think about our Christmas photo card to Rita! funny. anyway, Happy Fall!

Sheila Isabelle Goertemoeller said...

Fall - whats not to love- pumpkin patches, mums, and helping the kids pick out halloween costumes. I pride myself on a new found passion for face painting- thats right! face painting my trick or treaters, to really help them get in the spirit of their costume! So far, we've had a witch, geisha, Mike Tyson's tattoo replication, and a pirate's facial hair all done w my face painting kit from who else- Target!
Just when I thought I couldnt LOVE Fall anymore than I already do- I have found a new reason for FALLing --- the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice latte! A seasonal fall item!
I am new to the world of coffee. My addiction began with experimenting with hazelnut coffee 2 months ago(a gift from a coworker - coffee maker included). My previous caffeine fixes were from Vanilla Coke Zero! And now there is no turning back! I had read a few FB updates about this Pumpkin spice latte- and decided to give it a try sunday morning- and WOW! I am hooked and hate to think there will come a day when it is no longer Pumpkin Latte Season. Hmm.. I think I'll make a run for some first thing tomorrow.

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