• Melissa Westemeier

fresh start

I keep thinking of this song by Semisonic called "Closing Time" with the lyrics "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end." I'm trying to focus on that perspective: the new beginnings as opposed to the endings while so much happens at the same time around here.


The school year ended. It was a flurry of craziness with grading final papers, signing yearbooks, signing Happy Retirement cards, interviewing for a new teacher (and saying goodbye to a colleague who is launching a new chapter in her life), planning and executing graduation, closing out my gradebook and filing the paperwork. Room 209 sits quiet now. The desks are still 6(ish) feet apart. The whiteboards are bare. I turned in the extra monitor and solemnly vowed never to open another Zoom call again. Or at least until a student had to miss a few days because of illness or vacation. And only then, under my terms, would I start that Zoom meeting.


I've begun the re-calibration process of summer break. I brought home three half-read books off my desk, descaled the Keurig coffee maker and packed up the desk supplies. I made a few notes for next fall and closed my school laptop until later this week when I need to use it for a grad class that starts on Monday.


My middle son, B, graduated. Because I'm one of the two dozen or so people in charge of graduation, I get perks like reading his name during the roll call. And get a selfie backstage when the seniors are lining up to process (proceed?) into the ceremony. I'm crazy about my middle son, he's just lovable and sweet and kind and funny and no one can say a bad word about him. When he gets fired up for stuff, he's ALL IN (lately he's fired up about lifting weights and eating protein, so he walks around flexing a lot and talking about maxes and reps and egg whites). He's been working for a landscaping business for the past couple summers and this summer he and his BFF started their own side hustle, doing lawn care. B works hard and plays hard and seeing him in the halls at school always made me smile. I'm going to miss spotting his tall slouchy posture and hearing his voice at school. I've been really lucky getting to spend extra time with my sons while I'm at my day job.


My son is a giant.

When the seniors graduate I observe their reactions to their end of high school. Sometimes seniors try to delay departure and even show up at school the Monday after graduation, not quite ready to say goodbye. Sometimes seniors act naughty, testing their wings before flying free, they talk sassy and fling toilet paper into tree branches. (Literally with the toilet paper, not metaphorically.) Often seniors get emotional. Everyone is everyone's best friend, nostalgia fills their conversations and suddenly "this will be the last time ..." really sinks in for them. We had a fair share of challenges ending this year. "COVID F's" kept teachers and guidance counselors stressed out between frantic students trying to pull off last-minute miracles and anxious parents suddenly aware that the grades DO matter. In the middle of this chaos, I lost track of the books I'd checked out to students and who even knows where that folder of graded assignments landed before I had a chance to return them.


For the first time in school history the graduation ceremony took place outdoors on the football field. That went better than I anticipated and we discovered a few advantages that will probably make the outdoor ceremony the new normal. The sound system on our school's football field is WAY superior to the one in the field house, for example. When the weather cooperates the event is absolutely heavenly. We had lots of space, the graduates seemed more relaxed and no one had a bad seat for seeing the ceremony. We also had to chase down speeches that blew off the podium despite our efforts to clip them in place and the tablecloth flew away when the last diplomas got passed out. The theme of every speech was "resilience" (are you surprised?).


Two students put in a HUGE amount of work on a senior slide show. This is typically shown after graduation practice, and runs before the ceremony begins the following afternoon. With an outdoor event, we had to scratch the public viewing of the slide show. Then technical issues came into play. Cue frustration and tears and eventually the slide show ran before the seniors lined up to proceed (process?) into their graduation ceremony. In the darkened lecture hall of Happyland High School, the Class of 2021 gathered together one final time and watched twelve years of school memories play out before their eyes. I'm not typically emotional, but hearing their laughter and cheers while they watched, and seeing their faces flash on the screen made me tear up. I was so glad for the students who labored over the project to have a moment of glory and experience watching it with their classmates. Weirdly, I think that should be the way all senior slide shows go in the future--show it before they take their final bow and maybe trot the video out every five years at their class reunions.


The Tossing of the Caps looks more impressive outdoors, too.


After picking up the discarded programs, giving congratulations and shaking hands, I raced home to put on my hostess hat because Mr. B's graduation party would begin in approximately thirty minutes. Thanks to a food truck taking all the burden of entertaining off my hands, I enjoyed visiting with friends and family. B's party was AWESOME. Yeah, my feet ached and my head hurt and my whole body was bone-aching exhausted, but when you're surrounded by wonderful people you haven't gotten to hang out with for over a year, you crack open a cold one and enjoy the party. Only a real dumbass would plan her son's graduation party immediately following the graduation ceremony she helps run at the tail end of senior classes she teaches. But reader, you already knew who you were dealing with here.


But wait! There's more!

Shortly before all these new beginnings got under way, my youngest son started his Journey to Recovery. Midway through his baseball season, Mr. G collided with a teammate while going to catch a fly ball in the outfield. I watched him run into his teammate, fall down and lay still. And lay still. And lay still. Then coaches came out. And the trainer got called over. I assumed he might have sprained an ankle and calculated where a 6-week recovery might put us in terms of the playoffs.


A week later after an MRI and two physicians' opinions, we knew Mr. G needed surgery for ACL, MCL and meniscus repair. A surgery with a recovery time that takes 7-9 months. Everybody cried. Just like that, Mr. G's plans of a summer playing baseball and basketball and working alongside Mr. T at the truss business and getting ready for football ... shattered. As the seniors went to school for a final Friday I sat in the surgical center while Mr. G went under. It took three hours for the surgeon to repair all the damage and it took another two hours to get Mr. G into the car for the drive home. Oh, I got to teach virtually for a few extra days this year while I helped Mr. G and now we begin a summer of therapy appointments and crutches and a leg brace. It's awful to watch your kid get sidelined. The good news is that it's a temporary situation and he WILL recover well from this. The surgeon and physical therapist are excellent, the surgical procedures and rehab has come a long way since they began these repairs decades ago.

Mr. G will be in fighting shape by January (we hope ... in time for some basketball, right?).


To recap, it's June, the beginning of writing season. The beginning of another son getting ready to leave for college. The beginning of the summer work season for Mr. B and Mr. T (which is coincidentally the beginning of Sweaty Laundry Pile Season and Have Supper Ready by Five for Hungry Workers Season). The beginning of Mr. G's healing.

The school year and the sports season have ended, and I start tending to the home front by scheduling car and doctor appointments, sorting out the piles of unfinished projects and bringing my stress level down 187 notches. I began swimming more and spending less time in front of a screen! I started going barefoot and not setting an alarm to wake up in the morning and having coffee on the porch for as long as I want!

In my spare time I might start reading a few books and pulling some weeds around here.

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