I know most of the world doesn’t divide time into semesters, but most of my adult life has been spent as a college student or college instructor, so semesters make more sense to me than months or seasons. This semester, I was fully immersed in college life, which is why I haven’t written a blog post in ages. Let me catch you up…
In August, classes began. I stepped back into the classroom to teach English composition, but I also began taking grad school classes in psychology. Those classes are accelerated and asynchronous. Each class lasts only 5 weeks, so things move quickly! It took me a little time to work on balancing the responsibilities of teaching and being a student. Today was my last day of teaching for the semester, and on Sunday I will finish my third psychology class. I feel like I’m just coming up for air for the first time in months.
A week or two into the semester, I got an email asking if I was interested in working part time at the college as an academic coach. I had no idea what an academic coach was or why they were offering me the position, but as I do with most things in life, I said “sure!” and decided I’d figure out the details later. Turns out academic coaching is a pretty cool gig. There are several of us at our small college, and our job is essentially to help the students get through college, whatever that might mean to any given student on any given day. Some students need help with time management, some need help navigating academia. Others need a sounding board, mental health support, a cheerleader, a gentle nudge, a stern reminder, help finding resources, an advocate… Much of it is intuitive and things I’ve already been doing with students in my classroom. I’m still learning the ropes, but college-aged people are some of my favorite people, and I think coaching has been a good match for my skill set.
Another role that I play on campus is that I’m Aidan’s aide. For the first year or so that Aidan was in college, we hired aides to drive Aidan to classes and help him on campus. Having an aide worked out well when it worked out, but ultimately it made life more stressful when the aides would inevitably call out or not show up or quit with little notice. Since being back in school post-pandemic, we decided it would just be easier for me to be Aidan’s aide. But “easier” doesn’t mean easy. We’re both on the same campus, but we have overlapping and conflicting schedules. Aidan doesn’t need much help, but I need to get him into buildings, help him with his books, and take him to the restroom. Some days he needs to wait for me while I work, and I need to drive him to classes on my days off. I try to give him as much autonomy as possible while being available when he needs me. It’s not an ideal situation, but we make it work. And since Aidan graduates in May, we’ll just keep trying to find balance.
Teaching, coaching, taking classes, caregiving…these months have been exhausting and enriching. I managed to have some fun and adventure along the way. I visited a friend in Atlanta where I was able to hang out with some amazing women and see Emily Saliers from the Indigo Girls perform an intimate private concert!!! I went to Cleveland to attend the wedding of one of Ethan’s dearest friends. I had dinners with friends, made it to a few parties, and hosted Thanksgiving dinner for dear friends. Tom & I redecorated the dining room last month and put up a Christmas tree last week. Owen has been living back in Pennsylvania, so he’s less than an hour away now. He has a cute apartment, a cute girlfriend, and a cute new dog. Life has been flowing and teeming.
I have a few more assignments to complete as a student, and a bunch of portfolios to grade as a professor. Then I have a nice long winter break. I will relish the downtime, but I’ll also be a bit guarded of my mental health. My mind tends to stay on track when I’m busy, but I sometimes slip into darkness when I have free time on my hands.
This will be my third Christmas without Ethan, and the loss is as overwhelming now as it was that first year. His presence lives in every ornament, in every tradition. His absence sits on my chest and wakes me with gasps in the middle of the night. I miss him so much. So so so much. I miss my parents too. I feel defined by grief and molded by loss.
As always, I’m taken aback by the ways all of these parts of me can coexist. It’s not that I am one thing or another. I am all of these things. I am a student and a teacher. A coach and an aide. I am a mother who has lost a child and a daughter who has lost her parents. I feel growth and I feel stunted. I feel bolstered by strength and fearfully fragile. The pause between semesters is a time to put down some of the things I’ve been carrying. When the next semester begins, I can pick up what I need. I can leave behind what no longer serves me. I can be what I’ve been or try something new. Please wish me well. I send much love to you.
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