My birthday is coming up. Two weeks, to be exact. When I was younger, starting in my twenties, I would celebrate by doing something I had never done before. I got my first tattoo on my birthday. I flew a plane.
I went fly-fishing.
I climbed the highest cathedral in the world.
[This was not intentional, btw. I got in the wrong line and was stuck climbing to the top with a tour group.]
I went to a shooting range and fired my first gun.
I held a snake,
a major accomplishment ‘cuz they really scare the crap out of me. I went to the track and bet on horseracing.
I loved this idea, doing something new every birthday. I began planning it in June, two full months before the big day. Some of it was easy to plan. Fly-fishing, for example, my old college roommate’s husband went out every weekend so I just tagged along. And horseracing was a last minute event (I was going to go skydiving) as two co-workers “kidnapped” me for the day and I had no idea where I was going. Some events took a bit more to plan. Climbing the highest cathedral in the world was a by-product of a six-week trek through Europe. I just happened to be in Ulm, Germany on the day of my birthday.
There was a newness to kick off the next year with a special event, a “birthing” moment of who I was hoping to be that year (do not read more symbolism into the snake issue, please. It was more about overcoming fear.). Once I started teaching, I stopped planning special events, as the start of school was too close to the date. (I remember that the very first class I taught began on my actual birthday so that was definitely something I had never done before.) But ever since, school began within days of my birthday so it was too hard to plan events that took me somewhere. I was usually home working on last minute syllabi.
This year, I won’t be leaving town, either. For one, I just got back from three weeks away and I think Jimmy missed home. And school begins on the Monday after my birthday, which is only the Saturday before it. As I sit here thinking about this day two weeks away, I realize that I will have finished my dissertation and handed it in by then. This is a project I have had outstanding for at least three years, mishap after mishap preventing me from completing and submitting it for the required approval to complete my final graduate program. In reality, a project twelve years in the making if I count all of graduate school that contributed to my doctoral degree.
The point here is that perhaps this birthday is the most renewed one of all. I started out with a goal over a decade ago and stuck with it and the culmination of this project is about to end. There is a bittersweet feeling of accomplishment concerning officially completing my graduate program and becoming Dr. Polak. While I am truly happy to receive my degree and finally settle after transient living for the last fifteen years or so, I wonder if I will become that teacher that I always hated, the one that is disconnected from their students and has no idea of the reality of how busy students’ lives can be as they overplan readings and set project due dates right after spring break.
I somehow cannot imagine any of my students letting me go there.