Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A different kind of family tree

Since the summer solstice I've been a little more nostalgic than usual...thinking about the past, remembering students I've taught and colleagues from my years at Greenwood Elementary.  It seems I can't go anywhere these days without running into someone I know from ten, fifteen, even twenty years ago, and all of them have one common thread that was woven into place a long time ago. 
When I was a kid living in south Toledo, Mr. and Mrs. Bullock moved into a house on Eastwick Drive the same summer that my family did.  Having no children of their own, they quickly became like a second set of parents for my sisters and me.  We were always welcome to swim in their pool and enjoyed endless games of "Red Light, Green Light" all summer long while Mr. and Mrs. Bullock chatted with our parents over cocktails and hor d'oeurves.   The adults sipped their whiskey sours while my sisters and I roasted marshmallows for s'mores or chased after fireflies as the sun set, the Midwestern sky a blaze of orange and yellow.  Occasionally the Bullocks spent time with us during the holidays, and I have fond memories of several Christmases when they joined us for dinner and board games. 
Educators while in the classroom or out, Mr. and Mrs. Bullock set an example for me to follow when I showed interest in becoming a teacher.  They listened.  They cared.  And by example, they encouraged my love of children.  Years later, when I went to college to study education, Mr. Bullock was a principal at a Washington Local elementary school.  He invited me to Wernert during my holiday breaks so I could shadow one of his best teachers, and I fondly remember sitting in the corner of Judy's classroom, watching her enthusiastically work with her students.  Some of them even approached me for assistance, and it was then that I knew for certain I wanted to be a teacher instead of a veterinarian.  
          When I applied to Washington Local Schools five years later, Mr. Bullock was at the top of my reference list.  He reminded me throughout my career that it may have been his name that got me in the door for an interview, but it was my ability that secured the position.  And always, he was a staunch supporter of my success in the classroom.  Sadly, Mr. Bullock passed away in 2007, but his legacy lives on in my life and in the countless lives of his students, teachers, and friends. 

Last month I attended the funeral of Mr. Ken Bishop, who was the superintendent when I was hired by Washington Local.  Sitting in the sanctuary among dozens of former colleagues, I was amazed at how quickly time has passed since I left teaching sixteen years ago.  But still, it was effortless to pick up where I left off with the friends I had back then.  For now, more than ever, I've come to realize that every significant person in my life can be traced back to a connection with the people I know through Washington Local Schools. 
My wonderful friend and surrogate mother, Yvonne, sat next to me throughout the service, and I remembered all the long nights we had spent after school preparing for the next day's lessons, the endless hours we rehearsed for our annual First Grade Thanksgiving Feast, the times when Yvonne gave me much-needed advice and guidance as I made my way through my tumultuous twenties.  We still get together occasionally and her darling granddaughter is often a yoga student in my after-school classes.  I cannot imagine a kinder, more loving support as I make my way through my fabulous forties on the way to a brand new life.
Our friend, Sandy, wasn't there as she's now living in Canada, but I felt her with us in spirit, for she and I don't have to be in the same room -- or even the same country for that matter -- to feel connected.  Sandy's the one who taught me that I needed to lose my mind in order to find my soul, and I find myself in the midst of that lesson once again this summer.  But this time around, I'm embracing it instead of running away from it like I used to, so I'm certain we'll have much to celebrate when we take our long-awaited trip to Sedona next summer.
Greenwood's former principal, Mr. Baker, sat next to Yvonne and whenever I see him at retirement parties or Greenwood celebrations, I'm taken back to my early years as a sixth grade teacher when Mr. Baker graciously supported my uncommonly difficult experience all the while encouraging me to hone my skills and speak my truth.  He's still the best boss I've ever had and if he called me tomorrow and asked me to work for him again, I'd do it in a heartbeat. 

I'm a yoga instructor today because of an intense year I spent in 1996 working with a classroom full of challenging situations that made me want to quit my job.  After lamenting to a colleague about the stress I had to face each day, she said, "Take a yoga class."  I balked and said I didn't want to sit around and chant "Om" all day long...that I'd rather go for a run.  
But a week later, another friend suggested the same thing, and then another, and then another. So in the fall of that year, I ventured into a practice that has been nearly twenty years in the making.  When I left the classroom in 1999, and my small yoga business was just a fledgling in the nest, a plethora of Washington Local teachers flocked to my house and filled up the classes.  Even today I still teach a host of lovely ladies with whom I can relate, for my memories of what it feels like to be a classroom teacher haven't faded.  They say we teach what we need to learn, and in my case, that couldn't be more true.
In 2000, a Washington Local colleague suggested me for a position as a yoga instructor at a local Montessori school where I eventually taught hundreds of children and connected with a host of wonderful parents.  It was there that I met my pal, Satish, who has been a kindred spirit since the chilly December afternoon when I was teaching in his preschool classroom.  And I'm so thankful that, all these years later, his whole family has become an integral part of my life now...and for always.

Many of my Washington Local connections have evolved over time.  Some of them were put on hold for a while, only to deepen whenever I would run into someone around town or schedule a coffee date during summer vacation.  I've been in friends' weddings, held their babies on the day they were born, watched their kids grow up and attended their high school graduations.  I've warmly welcomed them into my home and gently let go when it was time for them to move away. 
It's been a mind-blowing experience to see my "kids", as many of my former students are now married with children of their own.  Just last week while hiking at Wildwood, I ran into the mother of a former first grader who was helping out with his three little ones.  She didn't recognize me at first, for as I often tell people, "I'm a different Kate now than I was all those years ago." 
But through all the shifts and changes, my Washington Local friends have been there every step of the way.  From my friend, Lisa, whose son was in my class at Greenwood, to my wonderful editor, Joyce, who taught at Jefferson Junior High, to Judy, who magically re-entered my life this spring, I'm blessed to be a part of a different kind of family tree, one that will continue to grow and flourish as time moves us ever onward.  
          How heart-opening it's been to be able to embrace that which was destined for me all those years ago when the Bullocks moved into their house on Eastwick Drive and set the stage for a lifetime of learning and healing.  
          A lifetime of enduring friendships.  
          A lifetime of love and grace.
It's a wonderful thing to know that after all this time, spending time with my Washington Local family still feels like home. 

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