It’s that time of the year. My preschool classroom is running beautifully on autopilot. The 4-year-olds know what to do next before I tell them. They are even taking care of each other when tears rise up.
In days we will all go our separate ways. We may see each other in our south Minneapolis wanderings, or at an event or at the store, but we won’t be a cohesive, cozy, caring community enveloped in our room of play and learning every day.
People write off the big, wide emotions of this time of year as “spring fever.” It’s a fever all right, from a sickness called grief. We are, in our 4-year-old or 50-some-year-old way, grieving the loss of this group. We will never, ever, be this group again. Our in-jokes will be lost on others who weren’t there, our insights as we discussed our favorite picture books will be silently integrated into our endlessly evolving and ever-growing minds, and that special day when everyone wanted an icicle and we could find one for everyone will be forgotten in the folds of our memory.
A wise person once told me that life is about learning to attach and detach. I was so angry, I rejected the thought immediately. What a stupid piece of wisdom to share! Keep it to yourself.
But it’s true. We attach to parents, homes, jobs, puppies, children, students, neighbors, books, coats. Then come deaths, moves, layoffs, aging dogs, empty-nesting, ends of school years, more moves, the last pages of books, and outgrown or outworn coats. We detach because we have to — due to circumstance, choice, a move toward health and because, as my favorite kindergarten teacher said, “Children, that’s the circle of life.”
The warm, magnetic, blinding light of attachment feels so good, so right. We feel grounded and endlessly competent, ready to meet any challenge. Filled with energy and life-giving generosity. We smile and celebrate as we attach. Exulting in our human community. It’s the detach we usually botch. We ignore it, forget to cry, minimize it and infection sets in. It’s not spring fever; it’s grief, anxiety and bewilderment. Children think everything is forever. Adults want everything to be forever.
So lately, I’ve been thinking about adding to my friend’s wisdom. It is about attaching and detaching, and it’s also about what comes after the detachment. If it’s a death we are facing, how do we continue that relationship, mature into a layered understanding of what happened or didn’t happen in life with that person? If it’s the end of a class community, in what way will we bring that community to the next? Even the little ones know they can keep those learnings and add to them in the next year.
If it’s a job loss, we reflect on the reality and the difficulty of the job we have lost and translate that into a leap of hope into the next. The empty nest: We never knew when we first held that baby that the goal of our seemingly endless child-rearing work was to actually teach our children to leave. So when the job is done well, and they do leave, we have ample time to reflect on those warm years of face-to-face attachment. Then figure out what it means to face each other as adults.
The luscious possibility of the time after detaching. We are vulnerable at these liminal times, fevered and confused. There is so much to wring out of these early summer days as we leave so many things. Classrooms empty; the indoor places of the city become quiet as we head outdoors. Out to find the next challenge, the next community, the next task.
I am a temp, as we all are. Temporary by design. Temporary in my importance to my students. Temporary in middle adult health, and temporary on this big blue exceedingly rare planet. It only makes every moment more luminous and important.
Kris Potter lives in Minneapolis.