September 6, 2011

You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land, there is no other life but this.

— Henry David Thoreau, cited on a million or so “Inspirational Quotations” websites


It’s Labor Day, the last day of a long and heavenly summer.  Tomorrow, seventh grade begins, a whole year of potential and possibility.  Potential triumph.  The possibility of disaster.

We spent the morning  buying pencil cases, organizing our closets into two sides: clothes that meet or flaunt dress code.  We then spent an hour at the kitchen table synching nine calendars — one for fourth grade Abigail, one for seventh grade Grace, one for DH at work, and five different ones for me:  a paper calendar for home, a paper calendar for school, a master digital family calendar, the girls’ two different school calendars, and my school’s calendar.

You should be very impressed with me right now, because this was not an easy task.  It required every ounce of energy in my pea-brain, the same brain that has been languishing in downtime for far too long.

But all that is about to end.  Abigail is off to her last day of lower school.  Grace is starting 7th grade.  I am too.

It’s a risk, going back to work — even this so-much-less than full time job I’ve managed to fall into.  I risk being distracted overwhelmed.  I risk the stable and settled happiness we four have forged with so much hard work.

I risk falling so in love with my new classroom and my new school that I forget to focus on our lives at home.  (Just ask Samson, who had to wait until 6:00 for me to walk him on the day I got so immersed in setting up my classroom.)

Abby’s and Grace’s risks are bigger, broader, more intense.  Fourth grade is no joke, and while the kids get the treat of feeling like the oldest kids in the school, they also have to learn long division and cope with a social world that is not always friendly or welcoming.  Of course seventh grade is quite famously worse.  My own seventh-grade memories are pretty bleak, and nothing I have seen since would suggest to me that it’s going to be any easier for Grace.  Sure, she attends an amazing school, with loving and committed teachers.  And yes, she has grown more this summer than I have ever seen her grow — not only physically, but spiritually.

But there it looms, the seventh grade.  The heavy backpack.  The endless homework.  The mean girls who can ruin your life merely by pointedly ignoring you.  The raw confusion when you can’t remember the schedule, or you miss the bus, or you realize that everybody else knew about something you somehow missed.

That is tomorrow.  This is today.  Today, we hardly even left the house, except to walk the dog. The only risk we took was on a boardgame.  Grace pestered and pestered her father into setting it up, teaching her the rules, and then rolling dice with her so that she could begin her steady march across Asia and Africa, taking over his territories steadily and brutally.  In the context of that version of Risk, she was queen of the world.

On Sunday, as we were in the middle of a long drive back to New York, Grace made the sort of announcement I’ve never heard from her before.  “I am going to motivate myself to have the best year of my life.”  She was trying to get our attention, of course, but also her own.  She was lifting her head out of the dread that has been quietly accumulating around her.  She was trying out a new persona, a new approach to the inevitable challenges of whatever is ahead.  Today she fortified her announcement, filling in the pages of her little paper calendar, crafting her own to-do list.

Fortify all you want, but it’s a risk.  All of it.  Life, I mean.  When we are young, we are forced into life — it comes at us in wave after wave that we have no choice but to endure or to ride.

When we grow, we can find all sorts of ways to hide from the risks of life.  We can choose a quieter career, a narrower circle.  We can retreat and protect.  We can limit the risks until it feels certain that no danger will ever find us.

But life without risk is hardly life at all.  There is no other life than this.  Stop staring at that opposite shore with dreams in your eyes.  Go ahead.  Risk.

GailNHB September 6, 2011 at 7:16 am

Launa, this is yet another example of your powerful, poignant, right-between-my-eyes-and-my-heart writing. Man, oh man. I pulled out a big fat green marker and was copying parts of it into my journal before I’d even read it all the way through.

I wish you and your beautiful family strength, courage, patience, and a whole lot of dreams come true this year. You will be in my thoughts and prayers often, my sister-friend. Very, very often.

PS. I like Bill’s tee shirt in that picture.
PSS. I wish I could have been sitting at the table watching that game, cheering them both on, sipping some strong coffee with you. Someday…

Christine @ Coffees & Commutes September 13, 2011 at 7:30 am

Sometimes though I think the risk is simply living and letting ourself live. I’m not sure if I can fully develop this thought in this comment, but I do believe that as a society we’ve become so risk adverse that we’ve managed to back ourselves into a cornder of business filled with distraction that keeps us from worrying about all the things that really matter. Or even more, keep us from thinking about ourselves. Sometimes the greatest risk is letting all the pressures slip away and just living in the moment. I’ve learned this over the past few months and I’ve found it deeply freeing.

I remember grade 7 too, it was terribly awful. It changed me, the meanness, the politics. I hope for so much better for Grace. Sounds like she’s well on her way.

Launa September 13, 2011 at 8:18 am

Oh the misery of 7th grade!! This year I am pledging to fight it. Distraction, as well. Can we do both???

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