For what it’s worth / it was worth all the while

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.


4 thoughts on “For what it’s worth / it was worth all the while

  1. Ashley Yang says:

    As long as you remain on FB, I’m pretty sure you’ll never become “that teacher.” You’ll simply see too many whiny status updates to be unaware of it. Plus you have too many nieces to keep you in the loop. And a dog. Pets keep you human. Pets tossing your personal papers into lakes remind you that shit happens, each and every day to each and every one of us. And if you start to forget, if Stephen or I ever get wind of “That bitch professor in WRRH who’s assigning ridiculous amounts of work”, don’t worry, we’ll remind you how to keep it real, one way or another…. 0-:-)

  2. Katie York says:

    I want to start doing more exciting things for my birthday and I probably can now that I am not under my parents roof anymore. I got my cartilage pierced on my birthday last year and was never planning on telling my parents. Once my dad saw it he asked if it was real but I told him it was fake and fortunately he believed me. I almost got away with it until one day when my sister threw me under the bus and accidently mentioned it to them. They were SO MAD. After a lot of arguing I finally convinced them that ear piercings were normal and that a lot of people my age had them and I could take it out whenever I wanted to. They accepted it but were still not happy about it. But that’s not even the worst part. Literally EVERY time I come home my dad has somehow forgotten that I’ve gotten this earring and every time he sees it, it’s like the first time. It’s happened about 6 times and every single time he is as angry as the first. Maybe he is just so mad that I got it he tries to block it out of his mind and just ends up forgetting about it all together. Who knows. But it is ANNOYING. So after that whole rollercoaster I don’t think I will be doing anything too reckless that my parents will find out about for my upcoming birthdays (with the exception of turning 21.) So I guess my nose ring will have to wait. It’s for the best because I probably won’t even want it anymore in a month or two.
    And don’t worry you will never become “one of those teachers” you are just too fun!

  3. cec27 says:

    I chose to read this blog for simply the catchy title: “For what it’s worth / it was worth all the while”. This title made me want to learn more. Additionally, the images throughout the blog grabbed my attention. Furthermore, I wanted to comment what I do each birthday. Starting at age 13, my grandmother would give me a gold bangle bracelet each birthday. Each bangle was a little different ranging from a different design to a different size. I think it is very cool that when you were younger, starting in your twenties, you would celebrate by doing something you have never done before. More people should do this! You only live once! I really liked how you talked about each individual thing you did. For example, climbing the tallest cathedral in the world and getting in the the wrong line and getting stuck climbing to the top with a tour group. Additionally, I liked the ending of your post. It was very bittersweet. You almost had a moral to the story you created. Through doing these birthday traditions and stopping after you started to teach, you realized that earning your final graduate program degree was most significant. You started out with a goal over a decade ago and stuck with it and now the end of your project is around the corner. There is a bittersweet feeling of accomplishment concerning officially completing your graduate program and becoming Dr. Polak. I agree that you should do something fun for your birthday as you did before you started to teach. Live a little and do something fun! You now wonder if you will ever become that teacher that you 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’m pretty sure all your students think you are very fun and energetic so you have nothing to worry about! You should start up the birthday tradition again and have fun on your special day.

  4. GT says:

    I think it is awesome that you do something different and exciting every year on your birthday. I might just have to start that up from now on. I did have a list of things I wanted to do before I turned thirty, it was entitled “My List of Thirty Things To Do Before Turning Thirty”. I made it with a friend back in like sixth grade. If I remember correctly some of the things on it included: sky diving, scuba diving (CHECK), zip-lining (CHECK), hiking a mountain, glue-ing a gold dollar to the floor in the hallway of my middle school (unfortunately, did not do that) and learning to do a back flip off of a diving board (still, working on it). I am kinda bummed that I don’t remember it or that I didn’t even print it out to save it. It would have been cool to look at now. Reminiscing on my high school days and the past three years in college I know that I’ve done, completed or experienced things that I never thought I would. Things that I don’t think were on my list but I’m happy that happened or that I got through. Take for instance, chemistry class freshmen year. It was a struggle but I managed to finish out with a strong B. Or the mini road trip I took with 2 friends from Buffalo to Pennsylvania to NYC to Connecticut to Boston and then back to Geneva so many speeding tickets and car malfunctions. Or Ultra Music Festival in Miami, FL last spring break. All these memories are worth all the while to me…..

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