I never would have thought…
My daughter is a rebellious teenager now and she reminds me so much of myself at the same age – bold, brash, opinionated and full of herself. Too smart for her own good, as my mother used to say. And like me at that age, she is quite convinced that she will never have kids. She remains open to the possibility of adoption, but definitely no biological children. It reminds me of the piece I wrote for my high school yearbook: The Trials and Tribulations of Motherhood, based on a disastrous babysitting experience. The final sentence is… “I never wanted children of my own anyway…”
My, how things have changed.
Not only do I have a child of my own who has given me more meaning and purpose than I ever could have imagined (along with plenty of trials and tribulations of course), but for the past 10 years, in addition to my creative pursuits as an actor, writer and director, I have worked at independent schools among children aged 11-18. I never would have thought I’d end up here. But what is most surprising is how much joy the children bring me every day. Not only did I swear, like my daughter does now, that I would NEVER have children, I also saw my father spend a 35 year career as a public school teacher, and swore that I’d never do that either.
As I greet the students this morning with a smile at their endearing and exuberant energy, I am struck by how much I love working in a school.
“Are you coming to watch the volleyball game today, Ms. Amy?”
“My wrist is feeling much better, Ms. Amy – just wanted to let you know it wasn’t broken!”
“What club do we have today at lunch, Ms. Amy?”
“I’ll get that form to you today, Ms. Amy – I promise!”
Some days, the barrage of young voices coming at me has me questioning my life choices… why aren’t I doing creative work full-time, I wonder? Why am I still trying to squeeze it into my spare time, instead of earning my living as an artist? Well, that’s a complicated question with myriad answers, but the revelation comes on a daily basis that while this may not be the destination I had planned for myself, there are so many heartwarming moments that make me grateful for the journey nonetheless.
It is hard work every day, and I don’t get nearly enough time to pursue my muse, but the reality is that the children feed that muse in ways that I couldn’t guess at during my dark and turbulent teens and twenties. While my writing projects still turn toward the dark and dramatic side of life, in my daily routine, that darkness is offset most ebulliently by the tide of tweens and teens who ebb and flow through my life these past 10 years. And there are times when I actually catch my breath and feel the prick of tears in my eyes at the privilege I feel to watch these children grow up in front of me; to watch them experience their own trials and tribulations of adolescence, which today feel ever more compelling than when I was growing up. A privilege it is to bear witness to a young boy’s transition from female to male, and the discovery of his peers in nurturing and supporting that transition. A privilege it has been to listen while non-binary teachers discuss their gender identity, and a Black student describes his reaction to August Wilson’s incendiary work on screen.
Every student who brings me a hand-written card at the end of the school year erases the actions of the student who acts out in class or makes me question my validity as an educator. Yes, that has happened. As a specialist teacher who split my time with administrative duties, the respect of the students was hard-won. Teaching is a unique vocation that comes with its own trials and tribulations – and is not for the faint of heart – especially in the middle years, when hormones are more powerful than thought processes. But it comes with its own unique set of rewards as well, and that of course is the work that the students produce. When a shy and self-conscious student came to me in his Grade 9 year, interested in animation, I wasn’t sure I could help him very much as I was just getting my feet under me in the classroom and I knew nothing about animation. A year later, the class had produced scenes from his first script with an animated segment inserted into the live action, drawn and self-taught by this young and ambitious new filmmaker. When school returned in September, another student breathlessly told me that she’d spent her summer shooting the short film she wrote in my class last term. The thrill of mentoring young, under-represented filmmakers cannot be overstated. It takes all the stress of my day-to-day grind, along with the self-doubt of my artistic ambitions and melts it away into the confidence that my work makes a difference and has a purpose beyond my own ego. And for that I feel gratitude beyond measure each fall when school returns once again, and the students’ voices ring through the corridors in that cadence, at once energizing and exhausting in its relentlessness.
I just never would have thought…