On the last day of school before Winter Break, I cleared off my desk, stuffed student papers into color-coordinated take-home folders, took down my classroom holiday decorations, cleaned out the shared refrigerator, and headed to my car before the sun went down. When I changed clothes before bed, I noticed that my pockets were bulging. I pulled out chewing gum, mints, an Advil, and a handful of paperclips. I don’t remember putting those things in my pockets, but I was clearly prepared for coffee breath, a headache, and organizing stacks of papers.
Teachers subconsciously prepare for every single school day like this. Anyone who’s been around children long enough knows to expect the unexpected. It’s one of the reasons teachers have such good auto insurance – we drive with eyes in the backs of our heads, too. As we head into 2020, it’s hard not to proclaim perfect vision for the next year just for the effect. Even though I don’t have any clue what’s coming, here are the paperclips I’ve got in my pockets. Metaphorically, that is.
Money in the bank. I’m old enough, stable enough, and married long enough to have some savings for the first time in my life. As I witness the generation before me starting to pass away en masse, I feel prepared for our next life stage – financially, at least. If I don’t blow it. I have good insurance, I own a house and a car, and I don’t have any debt except a monthly mortgage. My children have no more student debt. That is a huge relief.
A bucket list. Although many of these things are still just vaguely-formed desires floating around in my head, I have travel journeys picked out, a pile of books to read, and writing goals to accomplish. I hope to visit as many Maryland state parks as possible in 2020, to drive cross country, to publish something with my name on it (short story, memoir, poetry, curriculum), and to travel to Eastern Europe and maybe Madagascar.
Good health habits. Every day when I get home from school, I take a walk outside. I’m fortunate to live in a woodsy suburb where fresh air feels good no matter the time or temperature. As I walk up and down the hills, I feel fortunate to call this my neighborhood. I greet neighbors out walking their dogs, I see basketball games under the lights, and I recharge my energy. Since we don’t eat too many meals together anymore as a family, I usually eat something small early in the evening and finish before 6:00 pm. I’m not sure if this counts as intermittent fasting – the health trend of the year – but I like how it makes me feel.
Family. During the holidays, most of us connect with important people in our lives. I am grateful to have a big family that, in spite of all our differences, can come together for Christmas every year. We have a White Elephant gift-giving tradition that seems to be our “new” family model – a way that my autistic brother, my elderly mother, the unemployed young people, and the Jewish in-laws can all feel comfortable participating. Like the ever-ready teacher, I always bring an extra gift or two in case someone shows up I didn’t expect.
Friends. More than ever, I am grateful for friends. My oldest friends are women I have known since I was a teen. We have shared big moments in each others’ lives: weddings, babies, international relocations, new jobs, retirements, and funerals. We can call each other up to share moments of pain or joy, or to invite the others to join us in a new adventure. When I was younger I did not place enough importance on these friendships. But now I realize that my female friends sustain me like nothing else in my life. Just like I put paperclips in my pockets, I put my friends there without thinking. In 2020 I hope to bring more mindfulness to nourish these relationships.
As we roll into the new year, I am ready for the unexpected. My desk is clear and my pockets are full. I am bursting with plans and gratitude in equal measure.