Wednesday, December 14, 2011

    Winter Break Dreams

    Ah, winter break. The next few weeks spread out before me like yards of fabric purchased for a brand new quilt: so vibrant, so full of promise and potential. I have so many plans for you, my sweet days of the in-between. Long ignored projects will be completed. Books will be devoured. Real breakfasts will be made and eaten with proper utensils. For one month, I will actually get my money's worth out of that gym membership. 

    I may even go so far as to style my hair. (Stop laughing, thoseofyouwhoknowmeinreallife. It could happen.)

    Everyone else has their New Year's Resolutions, but those of us who engage in the triathlon that is teaching, we have our Winter Break Dreams. All throughout the fall semester we have ferreted away tiny shimmering hopes and sparkly big plans for the snowy interval that is, truthfully, sometimes the only thing that keeps us going through the midterm doldrums. 

    The first day that The Pile* becomes too heavy to lug home, we tuck away another Winter Break Dream. When students lose their initial determination and homework completion suddenly drops from 95% to 50%, it is the promise of that future respite that keeps us from weeping alone at our desks during office hours. Upon receiving the first student email of the term with both "Ima" and "ain't" in the body, do we drop to the ground and throw a tantrum? No. We retreat into ourselves and smile. For winter break is coming, and we are going to do big things during winter break.

    And now, here it is. I could fill an entire roll of Quilted Northern with an itemized list of all my Big Plans for this year's respite. Twelve weeks ago I was certain that this would be the year that I cook a Real Dinner every single night of my vacation. And start taking all those fitness classes at the gym. And read the entire pile of books I've set aside just for this sweet time. Was it only two weeks ago that I bought all of those knee socks, convinced that I will whip them into handmade sock monkeys in time to give them out as Chanukah gifts?

    Now, as I sit on the precipice of this long-anticipated interlude, all I can think is:

    What the hell was I thinking?

    What am I, some kind of superhero? Will I never learn? At this point, I'll be lucky to get out of bed before ten, let alone muster up the energy it takes to purchase all the items I'd need to make myself a proper breakfast. I've been running on Clif bars nibbled at stoplights on the drive in to work for so long that I'm not sure I can even stomach a real meal before eleven. And sock monkeys? Am I some sort of masochist? We all know the kids are going to get the usual stack of (delicious) books, purchased en route to the Chanukah party, and wrapped by those volunteers who sit at a table in the front of the store and wrap gifts for donations to the local animal shelter. 

    This is my eighth winter break as a teacher, and not one to break a perfect record, my eighth year of setting ridiculously unreasonable expectations for my Winter Break Dreams. Every year it is the same sad story. All semester long I buy crafty things and store them in the spare bedroom with a whisper, a promise: "I'll turn you into something adorable during winter break." I look at my husband over yet another Chipotle burrito and say "It's going to be so nice when I can cook for us every night." (To his credit, he just smiles and nods.) I choke down a Clif bar and tell myself "Soon enough. You'll be eating eggs Benedict with a side of breakfast potatoes in ten short weeks." And the books! About four weeks out from the blessed break I begin stacking them high on my nightstand until it looks like I'm playing a strange game of Jenga. 

    And time marches on, December sweeps in, the finals frenzy hits, and it happens. I find myself basking in the light at the end of the tunnel that seemed so far away for so long. My Winter Break Dreams, once the lifelines that pulled me through the depths of mid-semester perils, now press in on me with a threatening weight. Their sparkle fades, replaced by thorns and foul odor. Because I know the truth. It's always the same. I am too damn tired to get to any of them, and in these next few weeks I will engage in a game of catch-up and preparation for the spring that leaves little time for my precious dreams. 

    I will spend my winter break making up for lost sleep, lost nutrients, and lost time with friends that I have neglected all semester long. I will likely pull out the knee socks, make half an effort to turn them into something that resembles a monkey, and then stuff them back into their bag with a huff of frustration. I will cook a meal or two the first week, and then an incident with either the stove or another customer at the grocery store will rattle my resolve, and it will be back to take-out for the Osters. I will pull the tags off of my new workout clothes, wear them to a class or two, and then they'll wait out the rest of the winter break untouched, folded neatly in a drawer next to last year's shiny new workout clothes.

    But all is not lost! Because summer is coming. And summer is longer than winter. Summer is better than winter, for we teachers don't merely dream about summer, we fantasize. Summer is for Summer Fantasies. Summer is when I will get everything done. All of it. I will tie my Winter Break Dreams up in a bow and pack them in with all of the Summer Fantasies I will make throughout the spring semester. And then, then I will get to them all. This summer will be The Most Productive and Fulfilling Summer in the History of All Summers. This summer will be the best yet. I just know it. 

    * Teacher Jargon Explained 
    The Pile - The ever existent stack of grading that takes residence on every teacher desk around the second week of the term and doesn't disappear until after final grades are in. Teachers often drag the pile back and forth between home and work under the guise that they will actually read through the stack at night. This, of course, is only an illusion perpetuated to keep ourselves sane. More often than not, the pile remains untouched for days, and sometimes weeks at a time, like that pair of all-weather pants you always pack but never actually wear on vacation.


    Anna said...

    It's SO TRUE. I keep thinking: finally, I will finish knitting that sweater, I will clean out that closet, organize my files, and finally unpack that last box from when I moved into my apartment. I started working on a quilt for my husband when he was still the boyfriend. Yeah, top is done, the actual quilting ... not so much.

    Debbie said...

    Yes, I keep thinking that winter break will be the opportunity to finish the quilts I started for my two loving daughters two - or was it three - years ago. To their credit, they haven't been bothering me for them. Or blogging about my negligence.

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