Sunday, June 19, 2011

Freedom's Just Another Word

There is a sense of freedom that comes with the summer months.  When I was young, summer seemed to stretch on forever in a delicious amalgam of warm days, humid nights, fireflies, staying up till the wee hours, sleeping late and consuming piles of books as I lay on the back porch or rocked in the hammock. To this day, when I think of A Tale of Two Cities, I can feel vinyl sticking to my sweaty legs and smell the faintly dusty aroma of the cushions on my mother’s patio furniture.  Lord of the Rings evokes the knobbly imprint of hammock knots.  In the days when there were three channels to watch on television, you could count on a good movie late at night.  I don’t know why that’s not the case anymore. I always experienced such a joyous sense of liberation as I walked out of the last exam of the school year and into the embrace of Sherlock Holmes on the late, late show.

I haven’t experienced that feeling of liberation for ages, but I still anticipate it each spring as the school year winds down.  Summer in Monterey, California, of course, is a completely different season than summer in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.  Mark Twain once wrote, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”  A hundred miles to the south, Monterey has a climate mighty similar to that of the city of the Golden Gate.  The downside is that a June day is more likely to be 59 degrees with pea soup fog than 85 and sunny.  The upside is that we sleep with a comforter all year ‘round and the fall is three months of Indian Summer. 

But even though I no longer experience the tingling liberation that accompanies the last exam, even though I never leave home without a jacket, summer nonetheless brings a sense of freedom.  This has nothing, I assure you, to do with any teacher clichés.  A friend once told me that when she began student teaching, her teacher-trainer said to her, “There are three great reasons to be a teacher: June, July and August.”  I mean, really!  If that’s the best you can do, you’re just a walking argument for forced retirement.  This is not to say that I’m so noble or above the fray that I don’t celebrate a vacation from grading papers or the daily dose of teenage angst.  I willingly admit that’s part of the freedom.  Periodically, I need a break from listening. 

I love teenagers, though.  Our head of school likes to tell parents that while he would willingly go back to the days when his sons were four or five, the dean of students loves teenagers and has little to no interest in tots.  It’s true; I just don’t get them.  I mean, the concept of Blues Clues is incredibly cool, but a blue paw print can carry a conversation only so far.

The freedom of summer now has more to do with a looseness of time and place.  Maybe I’ll decide, when I wake up in the morning, that I won’t go in to school today.  I don’t, but I could.  Even more important than that, I can stay up late and sleep in.  If it is only possible that I can stay up till 2 AM and get up at 9 AM, I am a contented critter.  Push that to 10 AM and I’m delirious.  The long hours of sunlight give the sense of more time in the day.  Pick up a pleasure book at 6 PM and it feels hedonistic—you could be getting more work done; after all, the sun is still fairly high in the sky.  Want to do some puppy training at midnight?  Why not?!  We’re both awake and full of energy.

Cleo definitely enjoys the summer schedule.  She loves the snuggle potential of the more relaxed mornings.  She has embraced the summer routine: sleep until 7:30 or 8 (there has to be some light coming through the bedroom blinds), climb out of crate, stretch all four limbs thoroughly, shake out (being sure to rattle collar loudly), walk to Mama’s side of the bed and place paws on edge (push mattress if she hasn’t woken up due to rattle—see above), get lifted onto bed, position self at center of bed between Mom and Dad, curl into tight ball, go back to sleep for as long as possible (when Mom and Dad get up, curl tighter and squeeze eyes closed and they will let you sleep longer).  Eventually, she gets up, we walk to a park or the beach, and she comes home finally ready for breakfast.

She also loves the greater freedom at school.  With no students on campus, Cleo can be off leash more and can come with me almost everywhere I go.  Usually when we arrive at school, she waits politely in the back seat of the car while I gather my bags and attach the leash before giving her permission to jump out.  The other day, I gave her the “Okay” to get out without putting the leash on first.  She cocked her head and looked at me with an “Are you sure?” kind of expression.  Then she hopped out and trotted beside me to the door of the library.  As I unlocked the door, she began to walk away toward the Quad and the lawn.  There was a twinkle of adolescent rebellion in her eye.  She climbed the steps to the Quad, then looked back over her shoulder at me.  “Go ahead,” I said, and went inside.  I unlocked my office and dropped my bags at the desk, then went back to the library door to see what Cleo was up to.  She was sitting right by the door, gazing anxiously up at the window.  I opened it and she came in on the double. 

After checking that all her toys were where she had left them, she strolled out of the office to roam the library.  Doug was working on the computers upstairs and I heard a surprised, “Well, hi there!” come from his direction. 

“Everything okay up there?” I called out.  “She’s not bothering you, is she?”

“She’s great,” he assured me.  “I was crawling under my desk looking for a cable and she snuck up behind me and started licking my ear.”

There are lots of ways to share your sunshine.

Other folks bring their dogs to campus during the summer, so Cleo has made friends with Cowboy and Georgia (and now makes a beeline for their office whenever we pass it) and has grown less intimidated by Fiona who feels it is her job to herd the wild rabbits and to pee on top of Cleo’s pee whenever she can, even if she has just recently emptied her bladder. 

Cleo keeps a vigilant eye
on outdoor goings on.
One of Cleo’s favorite activities is to race back and forth across the Quad, aiming for at least four laps to each one of mine.  She bounces, ears flapping, from breezeway to lawn and back again, making brief detours to investigate an interesting smell now and then. 

If we’re the only ones in the library, she carries her squeaky monkey (a gift from a parent) just outside the office door and entertains herself happily.  Occasionally, she tours the floor to ceiling windows that comprise the library’s outer walls.  She effects a perimeter check for arriving gardeners, passing colleagues or unruly gophers.  When she’s sleepy, she climbs onto the chair in my office, observing the falcons that fly over the canyon until her eyes close.

It’s a good life, but I’m not envious of her as I answer emails, write new student welcome letters or revise informational materials.  I’m enjoying the freedom summer still brings, but it is only made sweeter by the responsibility that preceded it and that will surely follow.  Is it true that freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose?  At the moment, Cleo and I--we miss our students.

To see Cleo in action, click Cleo at the Beach or Cleo Loves Digging.

1 comment:

  1. what a great blog, how about trading 105 degree temps for a week. I love the videos, you know why they are called earth dogs now.

    THANKS Jan