In New Haven (or is it Woodbridge at that point?) on the Merrit Parkway, there is a tunnel that I used to take to school every morning when I stayed at Dennis’s house at night. I would stop at the Starbucks near the on-ramp to the Merrit in Woodbridge and pick up my white chocolate mocha (that wasn’t NEARLY as good as the ones they made at the Chapel Street Starbucks…thanks, Mike) and wait at the light, NPR as my morning soundtrack, to take my left onto Pondlilly Ave and then ease onto the Merrit. Shortly after reaching cruising speed, I would enter a tunnel. NPR would disappear completely, as it should since I was driving through a mountain, and for ten seconds I would be without both sound and light. I would try to speed up, but usually a car in front prevented me from going too fast. I never quite made it through the tunnel in under ten seconds. No matter what I did, there was always something in my way, and I would just be there.
This is kind of how the month of March seems to me: in the tunnel, no sound, no light, and only my Starbucks drink to keep me company. (Except here, there’s no Starbucks, so I appear to be S.O.L.) March, and you can ask almost any teacher, is perhaps the most daunting of the entire school year. It is usually the month with no breaks–not even long weekends. It represents the longest stretch of time between February break and summer during which everyone is just there. The grumpiness of this time of year in New England is further compounded by mud season and the generally gloomy environment that the weather creates by not being able to make up its mind about rain, snow, or fog. Not altogether an optimistic time of year.
Those of you who aren’t teachers and who are just about to chime in with this: “Woman, who are you to complain about having to work five weeks straight in a row without a break in Brazil when we non-teachers in the real working world don’t have the luxury of spring breaks and three-day weekends, and February breaks, and in-service days and 186-day work years? You have it so easy, so shut up and stop complaining about your job,” wait a sec. Those of you who are about to say that, I’d like you to take a small step, or a leap, back to your high school and middle school days and remember what it was like to be a student. Did you want to be with your teachers all day long? For five weeks straight without even a half-day thrown in for good measure? It was torture!
All of us teachers…we haven’t really left that environment. We were conditioned not to like March from the time we were in second grade, when school vacations mattered and we could actually begin to mark time on our own. All of us have had twenty-something (and more!) years of practice, of thinking the same way about every year. We’ve changed positions within our school environments, but for crying out loud–at least the rest of you have had a change of pace. Come to think of it, I’ve never spent more time anywhere else than I have in school; therefore, I’ve just naturally adapted my body to the rhythms of a public school calendar. (It would sound so much more romantic if my body could have adapted to the rhythms of the sea, or of the moon, or of Democracy…not the demarcation of 12 months first set upon me by Mount Mansfield Union School District #17 back in 1985.)
I’m not even going to bother talking about the relative amount of work and the different kinds of work we do as teachers, because that, my friends, is a discussion for another time. But it’s just occurring to me now, that if I’ve ever been conditioned to think about time in any way at all, it’s been based on the 10-month public school calendar–where the high points of the year are in June, December, February, and April–exactly the months of major breaks away from school. I would assume that people in 12-month 9-5 jobs feel similarly about their own calendars. I’ve just never had any experience with them. (The calendars, I mean.)
And it’s true. Sometimes I am in awe of people who have to work every single month without weeks off during the year. Who are they? How do they function? If they are cut, do they bleed? Most of my friends have regular 9-5 jobs and I just. don’t. know. how. they. do. it. Without end? Just on and on? I don’t mean this in any kind of unintelligent way. I really, and truly, am puzzled. More than puzzled. I am illiterate. Kind of like I am here in this country: illiterate. I know Portuguese is a language, somehow.
And so, when I think of the upcoming month of March, I hear the saddest strains of Mozart in the background. However this year there are some saving graces. It is this month, this traditional Month of Oh-God-Is-It-Almost-Over, at the end of which Dennis will arrive. I also live in a tropical paradise, so there’s no such thing as mud season. And finally, as I am sitting here at the very entrance of the metaphorical Merrit Parkway tunnel, I can realize that when I make my way through it and it’s all said and done, I’ll find myself again on the beach in Rio, blissfully sipping drinks in the hot sun. And that is one fine pay-off for five weeks of work.