My cousins and I go to the same beach in Newport every summer and stake out the same spot about one hundred feet from the pier. We always seem to go as the tide is rising, which means the waves get bigger and meaner as the minutes pass.
When we're feeling adventurous, we'll swim out a little and bob in the waves, or body surf, or sometimes be pummeled mercilessly by a particularly solid wall of water. When that happens, to me anyway, I usually loose track of how far below me the ground is, or where "below me" is in the first place, and when my feet happen to bring me to standing again it takes a minute of blinking, wiping sand from my face, and prying hair and kelp out of my eyes before I can look around and see where on Earth I am and how far I've been pulled from our family's collection of beach chairs.
At the end of our half day, my kids scattered one by one in all directions. Some took a moment to hug me and say they'll miss me, and others had their friends take a picture of us. Odds are fifty to one they have no idea how comforting that was, what with me leaving and all, and especially after some of the days I've had this year. I came back to my classroom, looked over our checklist of end-of-year formalities, and carted a couple boxes of stuff up to my room in the convent.
I walked back into an empty classroom. It was almost startling after nine and a half months of this room being stuffed with my kids' junk and the walls covered in colored butcher paper. The sound of the keys as I type echos slightly, which I suddenly remember it did at the very beginning of the year before I put up posters and filled my desk with paper trays and pen holders, back when there weren't squirmy junior high bodies of various sizes in here almost all the time. My first year of teaching is over, my first students are gone, and I suddenly feel much the same as I do standing on Balboa Beach with sand and salt in my nose.
What the heck just happened? Where am I? Where'd everybody go?
I suspect it will be a little while before I really wrap my head around this last school year, but some things are certain: I am so, so glad and thankful I got to work with these kids, got to know them, had the chance to teach them. As often as I would have loved to eject them from my classroom (with a rocket, preferably), more often I wanted to laugh with them and hug them. They did a lot more for me than I did for them, that's for sure (including giving me at least three new grey hairs).
As they each scampered away from me (can an almost-six-foot seventh grader scamper? Sure.), I felt a little pull at the heart, but no sadness or loss. One thing I've learned this year is that 90% of the time, "goodbye" doesn't mean anything. My kids left something with me, and whether they like it or not I left a little with them, and that web will last for years and years, and stretch longer than we'll even realize.
To say anymore, I'll need to start seeing straight first.