Education Matters: A side of familiarity within the slice of life

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The week of Thanksgiving is special to me. I wish I could claim credit for the genius idea for giving the entire week off to the students in the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union. While my friends from other areas seem taken aback when I mention this, I am supremely happy with this decision. I love the small break before the busy-ness of the rest of the year. I look forward these days.

I reminded myself of that on Monday morning. I pointedly reflected upon how much I enjoy being a part of my kids and their friends' lives. I refused to let something like spending a full hour cleaning the kitchen rain on my parade. A sleep over of ten kids, still making noise at 2 in the morning? All leaving ice cream bowls, seltzer cans and pizza boxes on my counters? Not a problem when you like them all.

On Tuesday, I purposely recalled their smiling, happy little faces ... as I started to defrost the freezer. Apparently the door did not close after their 1 a.m. ice cream raid. "Look, Mom, we only ate at 1 a.m. Dad heard the freezer and closed it at 4 a.m. anyway. You checked it again when you got up at 4:30. So stuff didn't have to be throw out," the middle child pointed out. "No harm done, really." He did dutifully help clean up, so how mad could I be, really?

It's a slightly different group of kids around this year. Our two "extras" (one from Brazil and one from Spain) are in two different years in our school than our own two children who are still at home. We've gained a few new kids staying over, and we are getting to know a whole new group.

In October, a friend emailed me a seemingly simple question. "How are you doing with one of your babies gone?" She has two boys, a bit younger, but she's already starting to see the high school graduation looming.

I decided to answer directly.

"It's like there is a hole," I said very honestly.

"It's not always noticeable, and it's not something that causes problems, but it is always there ... just this ... hole."

Her response was immediate and heartfelt. "That's made my heart literally hurt."

I find it rather unbelievable that I can feel this way, actually. We have four teenagers in our home at the moment; there is much going on. There is not a lot of extra time in my days, and it is definitely not as though I mope about. I am — we all are — very happy for son number one, who is doing fine at his chosen college, happily going about making a life of his own with new friends in a new place doing new things.

But there is always this hole. He'd hate to hear me say it, of course, and so I don't tell him that I think of him when I do (his) chicken chores in the morning. I just take photos of the rabbit he left us all, and text them to him, instead of thinking about how nice it would be if he were here to play with him, too. I don't admit how many times I think I hear his car coming up the driveway-we don't even have that car anymore.

I would think, perhaps, that there is something wrong with me. Except that the wonderful sisterhood of mom friends assures me that I am not alone. Just as I was sadly, woefully unprepared for how much the arrival of our first born would rock our world, I find I was not really aware of the void left behind when they start to leave.

Tuesday afternoon of Thanksgiving week, though, brings him home. Immediately, he joins into the throng of the kids who are here. The banter flows quickly and smoothly between him and his siblings. Quickly, the teasing is seamless — between the four who live here right now, the one who just returned and all those who are in and out so often.

We start with a hike, racing to get out before the late November day changes to night. We stop to play with the rabbits and check on the chickens. The dogs bounce happily; they love walks. We hike down through familiar trails, the boys pushing each other, the girls laughing at their antics.

I hang back and snap a photo of them all walking together. I want to stop time again, just for a split second. I know it will race again.

We have cookies to bake, pies to make, Thanksgiving to celebrate. We have games to play, and shopping lists for the special days. We have a tree to find and Christmas lights to unwind.

But just for a few days, I realize, the hole is gone. And I'll gladly take that little side of familiarity, with this slice of life.

Jill Stahl Tyler is currently a parent to five children: one at college, three at the high school and one at the middle school. She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment and the Brattleboro Town School Board. Contact her at jill@globalcow.com.

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