When I first started teaching 25 years ago, (yes, this is something of an anniversary) I sat in my parents living room during August making sailboats out of construction paper. Each sailboat had a different color sail and each child's name was lovingly printed on the sail. I think I had to make 26 sailboats that year for my sixth grade class. I then cut out the letters "Sail into September." I taped them all up in the windows of my classroom. I had pictures of blue skies and pink sunsets in mind when I wrote that, and although I know none of my students at Saint Luke's sailed, I thought that I was setting the stage for a peaceful entry into school. It was cute and that was part of what I was going for.
Nowadays, not so much. I have dinosaurs on my bulletin board (they are pretty cute) and we are "Digging New Discoveries." The work implied is intentional. Gone are my visions of pink sunsets and peaceful harbors and smooth seas. September, for a student, for a teacher, for a mother, is nothing like a smooth sea. It is full of rocky shores (I missed two meetings in the last two weeks) where you cut your toe and it bothers and nags at you for days. There are rogue waves (Meetings you didn't plan on or that go on way too long) that set you crashing back into the rocks, and they can leave bruises. There are unfamiliar places to go and we are not always catching that wind in our sails the way we dreamed about in August.
Today I picked up Matt from Outward Bound. I learned that Outward Bound is a sailing term used by ships as they head out to sea, leaving the safety of the harbor without protection from the storms that lie ahead. They are "outward bound". Matt spent almost a week in the 'wilderness' on a backpacking expedition. He headed out from the safety of his sheltered home for a trip with complete strangers with no ties or even any means of connecting to home. For days we all worried about him. "What do you think Matt's doing?" "I wonder if it will rain." "Do you think Matt's ok?" "I wonder if he's eating, hot, lost, scared, alone," etc. Being Outward Bound is not pleasant. There are so many variables. So many unpredictables. So many unknowns. All you have is you - and maybe some friends you can count on, hopefully whom you can trust. You come prepared and ready to try. That is all you can do.
September is the Outward Bound month. We are all setting out on new adventures to unknown places. Will we like our class? Will we like our teacher? Will they like us? It is not easy. It is really not easy. There is so much work to do! Homework, signing papers, setting alarms, packing lunches, readying school clothes, taking showers. (I think my kids showered maybe 4 out 7 nights during the summer) Whether you've known your class of friends since Pre-K or not, things are new and things have changed. If you're the new kid, things are totally different. Our kids have been the new kids more times than I'd like to admit - just by sheer change in circumstances. You have to navigate new relationships every day. And find new ways of getting things done. The anxiety in our household leaches into everything. We run out of milk, we forget that we left bread in the oven last night, the dryer breaks. It is really amazing that we accomplish anything in September, and the stakes are so high! We are setting the tone for the year - meeting new people while not necessarily at our best.
In some ways we are all Outward Bound. It might mean new jobs, new experiences, new places to live. Maybe it is new definitions of who we are, or who our close friends are. Maybe it's a new life they've longed for, maybe it's a new life they've dreaded for a long time. How do we survive?
I know one of the lessons of Outward Bound is that you have within you the strength to do it. You can accomplish anything, even the things you think you can't. But the other thing that makes it ok to go Outward Bound is someone or something that makes us know we will be okay. Perhaps the most important thing to take on your journey is the knowledge of the Safe Harbor. You have someone to return to, someone to greet you when you get back to shore. A warm smile, a familiar face, a soft hug, or even a soft blanket.
Matt hugged me when he saw me. He had found his safe harbor again. He ate. He showered. He ate again. He jumped in the pool. We sat at dinner peppering him with question after question. He answered all our questions. And then some more. And at the end of the day he said to me, "Ok, where is the Brown Blanket?" The brown blanket is something of an icon in our house. It is the one everyone looks for when they are down, or not feeling well, or whatever. It is the softest, just-long-enough, just-the-right-weight blanket there is. Although I have tried many times to purchase a blanket that is just as soft, just as good, there is no equivalent in our house. Funny, after all was said and done, that was the best thing - the ultimate in his safe harbor, it's what brought him truly home. So, when your child comes home crying, or worn out, or exhausted, or whatever, I hope you can find a brown blanket to wrap him in. And no matter where your day takes you, I hope you have a safe harbor to sail into this September.