In light of the fact that it's been almost a year since the world dramatically changed for everyone, I've been doing quite a bit of thinking. Thinking about how different life was roughly a year ago - I was still living in Gananda, the kids were in school full time, I was second in charge of my program at work, and I was diligently preparing for a summer Ironman that I was SURE was going to be amazing.
Hah. Funny what a year does. Despite the shitshow of 2020, there were some amazing aspects to it, and one year later, as I sit here, reflecting, I wouldn't take any of it back. We love our new home, the district we are in is amazing, my new director title has brought challenges but many rewards, and even though racing season 2020 wasn't what I expected, it made me so much stronger in so many ways.
Even though there are plenty of areas I would love to see change...I would say that life is good. Of course, the definition of "good" has been heavily revised as each week seems to bring a new change - a demand to adapt and move forward. As a result of so many of these changes, I have done a lot of reflecting on the concept of pivoting....of endings....and beginnings...in life. I'm not sure that this has any discernable direction on the future, but I suspect it does.
This past week, I found out that my 6th grade teacher passed away. On paper, this wasn't big news. Back when I was twelve, Mr. Hickey (please refrain, this poor man had to endure decades of crap for that name, I'm sure) seemed ancient - according to his obit, 27 years ago when he taught me at State Road Elementary....he was 49 years old. Yikes. Funny how becoming an adult redefines your scope of what "old" is, right? Man. Anyway, social media being what it is, his passing brought together memories from his students in the four decades he taught school. And there were so, so, many. It opened a dialogue with people I haven't seen in twenty five years, and pitched me right back to 1994, when I was an awkward pre teen, unsure about my direction in life and at a major cross road. (Not much has changed, save for that pre teen status, which, if you look at my sense of humor, also hasn't changed much, but I digress).
As I thought about all of the important lessons that Mr. Hickey imparted, I realized that he was one of the "greats" in my life. You know what I mean - those teachers that come into your life and change the course of it irrevocably. You might know it at the time, you might not. But you never, ever forget them - or what they have done for you. In my years, I've been lucky enough to have a number of amazing educators that have left an indelible mark - my kindergarten teacher, my 3rd grade teacher, "Hick" in the 6th grade, my high school health teacher, my AP 12 English teacher, my high school guidance counselor, my sociology advisor in college, and a high school science teacher I met at age 35 (apparently, you don't leave that stuff behind when you're an adult, which I'm incredibly grateful for). In some way, shape or form, they've all crossed my path at just the right time, worked their incredible magic, and left me a much better person for it. The world doesn't appreciate teachers nearly enough.
And while each one of these teachers deserves their own standing ovation (as I'm sure I'm not the only student they've had whose life has been touched by their incredible gift), today, I'm a kid stuck in the mid nineties. And I realized, that in his own way, The Hick taught me all I really needed to know...in sixth grade.
Sometimes learning can come from the most unexpected places. - Hick was a huge baseball fan. Heck, a huge any sports fan, but he had a soft spot for baseball. What better way to teach a bunch of sixth graders statistics? We followed MLB for the Spring season of 1994, and I got to know Frank Thomas rather well (I wanted Kirby Puckett, but hey, my friend Erin beat me to it). We learned about means and averages along with RBI's and while the Hick was Talkin Baseball, we were learning math and having a great time doing it! We capped off the unit with a trip to the Red Wings minor league game and our unit stars came in the form of french fries and dippin' dots. Smart man. I don't think a single kid failed the unit. I got a little extra credit with my same friend Erin via class presentation of "Who's on First" and at the same time got my first taste of drama club that would bring me well through high school. Just call me Bud. Who? What? I don't know.
Lift up your head and pay attention. One thing the Hick was known for was his astounding ability to aim small projectiles at errant students. While I'm positive it would never fly today, his track record of hurling erasers and chalk was well known to those of us not paying attention in class. You'd be passing a note or daydreaming, and BAM, a piece of chalk would whiz within an inch of your head. I caught more than my fair share of dusty erasers and calcite that year, more than likely as I was gazing dreamily at Jason Simoni (that poor kid, I feel bad for him, I was such a hot mess). The Hick taught me to sit up, keep your eyes on the prize and to avoid distractions, which has followed well for 27 years. He didn't teach me to stop teasing the boys. The man could only do so much, c'mon. Not the impossible.
Keep it Simple, Stupid. Sixth grade featured all the normal NYS curriculum back in the mid nineties. Math, Science, Social Studies, English, and Spelling. Rather than learning boring, every day words, we often got teasers thrown in, and to his credit, back in 1994, our class duly learned the longest word in the world - pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. This 45 letter word sounded mad cool - or- if you will - "radical" as we came home boasting to our parents of how smart we were. I don't think any of us misspelled the word on test day. We were badass. We found out, much later, that this awesome word was, in fact....a disease. Namely caused by inhaling quartz dust. Was it useful? hell no. Did it sound cool? Hell yeah. Thus, the Hick taught us that while things might sound impressive, the simplest method usually is best. (Unless, of course, you were going into geology. Then I digress.)
Even your greatest dreams can have limiters. Back in the day, our elementary school housed grades K-6. Therefore, not only did we have the coolest teacher in the school, we had top dawg status. One of the big events in the school year was our "Medieval Days" feast. It was huge, and we spent weeks preparing. We made goblets in art class, read about the era in history, learned period dances in P.E. class, and as a capstone, had a full day event where we were to pick a social class for our feast day, which included a roasted pig, rabbit, squirrel, dancing, and a jousting event. You could pick from peasant, jester, nun, monk, or noble person. There were limits for each to reflect a standard village, and we eagerly awaited our turn to pick. I wanted to be a noble, badly. A Nobleman, to be exact. All three teachers gently explained to me that I was not, in fact, a man, and could not be one. I would not be deterred as I researched into this particular status - they had power, the best weapons, ample resources, and wore the best costumes. What was there even to argue about? I eagerly submitted my name. I was heartbroken when they made me a noblewoman. This, to every other girl in the class, was the best pick - it meant a pretty costume with lace and a long skirt. To me, all I saw was an uncomfortable dress and floof. And with that, I learned that even my greatest dreams had limiters. The day of the feast, I dressed in my finest watched as my crush was crowned King. And then, a noblewoman had its benefits! Sadly, I was not crowned Queen. But out of all the kids in our 75 person class, I did manage to snag second overall in the joust - while wearing stockings and a lace dress. I lost to the King. Funny, I didn't mind much then.
Silence is golden. The day after medieval day was known as "Monks Day", which meant we all wore a cool hoodie and weren't allowed to speak....for 8 hours. We could communicate in writing and using hand signals only, and if you talked, you were sent out of the class. Looking back, this was a pretty genius way to keep 75 pre teens silent for 8 hours and was undoubtedly the teachers favorite day of the year. To me, I remember going through the day appreciating how much was conveyed without words and how taking the time to think about things before opening your mouth was, well...eye opening. Three decades later, I still take my time before responding in many situations in order to form my thoughts and words well, and its been incredibly helpful!
When the going gets tough, it's the best time to just go for it. If you thought the Hick liked baseball, soccer was his first main love, without a doubt. He coached the girls JV soccer team and saw it as his personal mission to teach us how to love running around on the field. To a chubby, uncoordinated kid, this wasn't always welcome, but the Hick didn't care if you were any good or not. Every day, rain, shine, or blizzard, he took anyone out to play soccer for 15-20 minutes. We ran around, had a blast, and then came back to class ready to learn. While this was a genius way of running off a 12 year olds energy, it also taught us to work together, to play
the field any position, and to stick it through no matter what "the weather" was. There was no bad day to play soccer, only days that were more challenging. As an adult, I'm no more coordinated than I was as a kid. Often, my volleyball bumps go backward rather than forward. We won't even discuss me on a bike. But I do have heart - and you've gotta have heart. As an adult, even on my bad days at sport - I always rally back the next day - cause those tough days set your mind up to excel and go for it - if you can persevere when the going gets tough, you've got it made.
Sometimes you know it's the last time...and sometimes you don't. As the big cheese at State road, us 6th graders knew we were the coolest kids that ever lived. And in June, as our last days as Elementary kids rolled around, we faced our first big transition - from the "Big Kids on Campus" to our next stop at middle school - which was the great unknown and a very big rite to our next stage as teenagers. We created as many rituals as possible to mark this passing - our 6th grade yearbook, a mini graduation, and, on the last day of school, several run throughs around the bus loop singing our trademark song from the Hick - "Centerfield" and " Hey-ey Goodbye". We sang with all our hearts to John Fogerty as the tears rolled down our faces. We knew it was the end of an era. We knew our past six years had come to an end. And somehow, we knew we were crossing a bridge to the next stage in our life.
Thanks, Hick. For the life lessons. For the laughs. For the learning. For the incredible memories and take aways that, as an impressionable twelve year old, made their mark. You'll never know the depth of your impact on so many of us as we lead our lives today. You will be missed, but we will carry on your legacy. Put me in coach - I'm ready to play. Today.